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83 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Some of you may profit from my 30 years of shooting black powder revolvers. This is very long so it would be best if you printed it out for future reference.
I own a number of cap and ball revolvers, they are:
Colt 2nd generation (circa 1982) Navy in .36 caliber, 7-1/2 barrel.
Remington 1858 .44, made by Uberti, 8-inch barrel.
Remington 1858 .36, made by Pietta, 6-1/2 inch barrel.
Colt 1860 Army .44, made by Pietta, 8-inch barrel.
Colt 1862 Police, five-shot .36 caliber, made by A. San Marco. 5-1/2 inch barrel.
Colt 1849 Pocket, five-shot .31 caliber. Unknown maker. Presumably made in Italy. Purchased new in 1976. A piece of junk that won't keep five balls on a paper plate at 15 feet because the bore is so rough. It's a wall-hanger.
Here's what I've learned (you may want to print this out; it's long).

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.
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.
Interestingly, when I received my Uberti .44 Remington I was in a hurry to shoot it so I didn't give it the bore-smoothing treatment. Instead, I brushed the bore with Ronson lighter fluid (to remove any petroleum preservatives) and swabbed out the bore with patches wet with lighter fluid, followed by dry patches. Then it was off to the range!
My first shot missed the 4X4-foot sheet of plywood entirely, at 25 yards from a benchrest!
The next shot hit the base of the target frame. The third through sixth shot began to come together in an 18-inch group. By the third cylinderful, groups were about 6 inches in diameter.
I was pretty disgusted when I brought it home, but I gave it the bore-polishing treatment after cleaning it thoroughly.
The next trip to the range, with the same balls, powders and caps, brought me 3-inch groups!
Today, that Remington shoots closer than I can hold. On occasion, it will put six .454 or .457-inch balls into an area slightly larger than a 25-cent piece at 25 yards from a benchrest.
And to think I considered selling it after that first range session!

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. There is little point in using FFG black powder. In my experience it doesn't burn as clean and produces lower velocities. I haven't tried the other brands of black powder, but I'm sure they work just as well in revolvers.
If you can't find black powder in your area, then try Pyrodex P or any of the other black powder substitutes.

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. I've shown the bore to friends while out shooting, and they were amazed. You'd think I was shooting smokeless powder because the bore was so free of fouling. (But never, NEVER use smokeless powder in any black powder arm!)

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. I use CCI Magnum caps for this, as they have a little extra power. For shooting, however, Magnum caps are not needed.

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 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.
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 screws 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 keep fouling down. 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.
Wooden grips can be cleaned with a damp cloth to remove black powder fouling. Then apply lemon oil (available at the grocery store) to the wood, inside and out. This will keep the wood from drying and warping.

6. Consistency is the key to accuracy in all firearms, and these revolvers are no exception.
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.
.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 $3, this will provide you with hundreds of wads.
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 have to cast my own balls of .380 inch for a proper fit.
Recently, I purchased 1,000 .380-inch diameter balls from for less than $70. This company makes very good balls, without the bothersome sprue.
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.
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.
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. I've heard that shooters experimenting with Linotype and similarly hard bullets have bent screws in rammers because of the force required. There is no benefit from using hard bullets, and every disadvantage.
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 ever seen leading in my revolvers).

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.

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 (trying to speed cooling by placing in the refrigerator may cause the ingredients to separate).
This creates a lubricant nearly identical to a well-known black powder lubricant sold commercially.
To use, place a small amount of the lubricant in a clean tuna or cat 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 in the .357 or other calibers, but may someday.
I like the addition of paraffin in this bullet lubricant, because it seems to stiffen the felt wad somewhat, and 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.

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. 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. This must be intentional, so they shoot low. This allows 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 swipe 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.
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.
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.
1/4" brass rod, about 5 inches long. If you get a ball stuck in a chamber without powder, remove the nipple. 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 and it's not a permanent marking.
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 and so on. This can save you weeks of waiting for a new spring.

It took me years to learn much of what I've offered here. I wish I'd had someone tell me all this when I started, more than 30 years ago.

44 Posts
Cleaning Black Powder Colt--exterior

I recently got a 2nd gen Colt 1851 Navy, and I'd like some advice on cleaning. There's a "patchy" spot on the heat-treated frame. Perfectly smooth to the touch, but rough to the eye. Is there any product I can safely use to gently buff it up? Second, there is some pink discoloration on the brass. I don't know if this is just natural variation in the brass; in fact, I haven't been able to find out if the brass trigger guard and backstrap are solid brass or if they're brass plated.

Your posting tells me you know a good bit about the care and feeding of Colt black powder revolvers, and any advice would be appreciated.

Thank you.

946 Posts
Thanks for those instructions! I shot BP 30 to 40 years ago and got out of it. Now I want to get back in it. I still have a original but refinished remington new model army. This one must have been refinished close to 60-70 years ago as it also has a very old red post king front sight and the rear hog wallow has been squared. I though it accurate the last time I shot it close to 30 years ago.


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I recently got a 2nd gen Colt 1851 Navy, and I'd like some advice on cleaning. There's a "patchy" spot on the heat-treated frame. Perfectly smooth to the touch, but rough to the eye. Is there any product I can safely use to gently buff it up? Second, there is some pink discoloration on the brass. I don't know if this is just natural variation in the brass; in fact, I haven't been able to find out if the brass trigger guard and backstrap are solid brass or if they're brass plated.
Thank you.
The spot on the frame is likely a slight defect in the steel that wasn't polished out before being color case hardened.
Unfortunately, there's likely nothing you can do, since any attempt to polish it will probably damage the finish.
One other possibility is that some makers applied a varnish type coating to color cased frames to help limit wear of the delicate color casing. The defect might be in the coating if it was used.
Without removing any coating, again, there's nothing to be done.
My advice is to just live with it rather than damage the finish.

As for the "pink" brass, that's simply the brass tarnishing.
Most all of these replicas have solid brass trigger guards and back straps.
One method of removing the tarnish and bringing back the color is to use a bit of a metal polish like Brasso and a soft cloth to polish it.
There are many polishes from Brasso to Flitz that will do, just try to limit the contact with the grips.

44 Posts
I suspect you are right about the patchy spot on the case-hardened frame--viz, not polished before the coloring process. I didn't know until I went online that case-hardened coloring is fragile. Glad I didn't mess with it. Any thoughts on protecting either case-hardened coloring or nickel & gold plating (on a first gen SAA) with the Renaissance Wax that Atlanta Arms / Museum Replicas Ltd. market for protection of swords (advertised by MSR as the wax used by the curators of the Armourers' Collection in the Tower of London)?

Thanks, too, for the info on the brass. I can now go after that with some masking tape on the walnut and not too much worry otherwise.


4,102 Posts
EXCELLENT primer by gatofeo. If you're new to BP revolvers I recommend you print it and keep a copy for reference. I've gone through nearly all of the steps he uses over the last 40 years myself. I'd like to suggest just a couple of other things. Put some wet wipes in your shooting box. They can be used to wipe cylinders and frame windows during a long range session and are worth their weight in gold for taking powder residue off your hide.
You might also put a small bottle of hand lotion in there. A bit of lotion on your shooting hand helps make removing the "fouling" on your hands easier. Also round toothpicks are useful for removing and reinstalling nipples. After using your nipple wrench to break them loose, push a toothpick into the nipple and unscrew it. Replacement is the reverse. My huge hands sometimes just cant get ahold of those tiny critters, and the tooth pick makes it easy.

83 Posts
Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Excellent suggestions, DFrame.
My apologies for taking so long to respond. My desktop computer died in December 2008. I purchased a high-speed laptop to replace it, but I'm still recovering the sites I once visited for my Favorites list.
Somehow, I overlooked this Colt Forum. A moment ago, in another message board, a member made a link to here and it jogged my memory.
I'll be haunting this site again, you can bet.
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