1860 Colt load

hogpukehogpuke Member Posts: 32 ✭✭
What's a good, safe bullet/powder combination for a tight, original 1860 Colt? Should I slug the barrel? Any lube preferences? Thanks.


  • allen griggsallen griggs Member Posts: 33,014 ✭✭✭
    edited November -1
    I use 30 gr fffg black powder and the .457 round ball in my replica Colts.
  • v35v35 Member Posts: 13,200
    edited November -1
    The barrel will likely be way oversize being the black powder impulse will upsize the ball.
    Measure the cylinder chambers and try tight fitting balls or conicals.
    It's been many years but I think .452 balls will be right.
    I've been using .452 185gr SWC 45ACP lubricated bullets that are very accurate in a repro Remington and a 2nd Generation Colt Stainless Army.
    There's no way you can overcharge an 1860 Army using 3F black powder.
    Make sure you can remove the nipples and lube the threads beforehand.
  • hogpukehogpuke Member Posts: 32 ✭✭
    edited November -1
    Thank you guys for the info. What do you use over the ball?
  • hogpukehogpuke Member Posts: 32 ✭✭
    edited November -1
    Can you safely use 2F powder?
  • 44caliberkid44caliberkid Member Posts: 925 ✭✭✭✭
    edited November -1
    Yes, you can use 2F. I use a .454 ball, the extra will shave off. Use Crisco over the ball to fill the chamber mouths. Or if you want to spend some money, buy Bore Butter.
  • allen griggsallen griggs Member Posts: 33,014 ✭✭✭
    edited November -1
    I don't put any thing over the ball. Sometimes I used lubed wads under the ball, sometimes I don't.

    I haven't had a chain fire.
  • hogpukehogpuke Member Posts: 32 ✭✭
    edited November -1
    Thank you guys.
  • GatofeoGatofeo Member Posts: 230 ✭✭✭
    edited November -1
    Search the internet for my long-time post, "How to properly use a cap and ball revolver." You'll find it under my name, Gatofeo.

    For that old, original Colt I'd first have it checked by a gunsmith. You have no idea whether it has been abused in the past, such as loaded with smokeless powder.
    The walls between the chambers are typically thin on cap and ball revolvers, especially the older ones. The late gun writer Elmer Keith reported in one of his books that he had seen tiny holes rusted through the rear of the chambers over time.
    I guess you could check for this by putting a penlight into each chamber, perhaps sealing around the light with modeling clay, and stand in a dark room to see if light leaks through another chamber.
    But this may not indicate a crack in the chamber.
    A good gunsmith should spot such a problem.

    When smokeless powder first became available, in the early 20th century, many fine guns were damaged because shooters ignored warnings that the new powder could not be measured like the old gunpowder (what we call "black powder" today).
    I'd be leery that, at some point, someone long ago may have loaded that revolver with smokeless powder, or used a little smokeless powder with black powder for cleaner burning (a practice sometimes recommended by old-time gun writers but later known to cause dangerous pressures in cap and ball revolvers).

    Now, if that revolver checks out okay ...
    Try .454 or .457 inch balls. The older revolvers tended to have larger chambers than today's.
    Yes, you can use FFG black powder.
    I'd try 25 grains of black powder, either weighed or by volume.

    I'd also suggest a lubricated felt wad on top of the powder. Ox-Yoke makes them, but I don't like their dry lubricant. Soak the wads in melted lard, Crisco, bacon grease, olive oil or the commercial black powder lubricants SPG or Lyman Black Gold. Or you can combine any of the fats or greases above with beeswax.
    The best lubricant I've found is one later named after me: Gatofeo No. 1 Lubricant. It's based on a 19th century factory lubricant recipe, that I refined by using very specific ingredients. It's in the posting I mentioned earlier, for you to search.

    Or, you can smear Crisco over the seated ball. If you use a greased felt wad under the ball, there is no need to smear lubricant over the powder.

    Ensure your caps fit firmly on the nipples. I can't tell you which size caps to buy as this differs with each gun, especially the old ones. Buy a tin each of No. 10 and No. 11 caps.
    If the cap is a little loose on the nipple, pinch it into an elliptical shape so it clings to the nipple.

    I am not one of those who believe that multiple ignition begins at the front of the chamber. Consequently, I don't believe that smearing grease over the ball prevents multiple ignition.
    Instead, I believe that it begins at the rear of the cylinder, caused by loose caps, or caps dislodged during recoil.

    About 40 years ago, when I first began shooting cap and ball revolvers, I experienced multiple ignitions in the same gun, on three separate occasions. The last incident damaged the gun beyond repair. I was not injured.
    In each instance, Crisco was smeared over the ball but the caps were not pinched into an elliptical shape to cling to the nipple.
    In reproduction guns, it's an option to buy nipples that fit the caps better. That may not be an option in old, original guns such as yours.

    Your old Colt will have gain twist: the rifling starts out almost straight, then increases in pitch as it goes down the barrel. The old Colts were noted for their accuracy, and I believe it was due to gain twist rifling.
    Long, conical projectiles don't fare as well in gain-twist barrels, because the front of the bullet wants to turn faster than the rear. But projectiles with short engaging surfaces, such as lead balls, work fine. At least, this is what Keith wrote years ago and what I've learned from owners of original Colts: best accuracy is had with balls, not conical bullets.
    Today's reproduction cap and ball revolvers are not made with gain twist -- except for one model that is an expensive target model. It's a Remington design, made by Uberti I believe.

    You'll almost certainly find that your old Colt shoots high, placing the balls well above the sight picture. The old cap and balls were made this way, and it's carried over into their reproductions too.
    This was done because cap and ball revolvers, especially within the military, were seen as augmenting the single-shot rifle at short range. A good soldier could hit a man-sized target at 100 yards with his Colt, keeping the enemy at bay while he reloaded his rifle.

    Get your old Colt checked by a gunsmith familiar with such designs, and if it passes muster you can have fun with it.
    Use hollow-ground screwdrivers made for gun screws, so you don't burr the heads. Some screws may be tight; the same gunsmith can loosen them without damage.

    Wear hearing and eye protection when shooting that old Colt. Never let anyone stand to the side, or they may be hit with lead shavings and hot gases.
    Keep all gunpowder and caps well behind you when firing.
    If you use a flask, pour the powder into a separate container and then pour from that into the chamber. Don't pour directly from the flask, a lingering ember might cause the flask to explode like a grenade.

    Black powder throws a shower of sparks. Don't stand in a dry, grass field and shoot or you'll soon have a grass fire. If you can't find an outdoor range (indoor ranges almost universally don't allow black powdwer to be fired, because of all the smoke), try a gravel pit with bare ground.

    The old Colts were well made in their day, but considering that gun was last produced 140 years ago (1872), ensure it's safe to fire.
  • hogpukehogpuke Member Posts: 32 ✭✭
    edited November -1
    Wow! Thanks for all the information Gatofeo! Saved me a lot of time researching everything you just laid out. I actually have two and I've had both guns apart (using the appropriate screwdrivers and all) and they are cleaned, oiled & one is ready to go. I didn't do the light trick but certainly will before I take them out. Neither has any appreciable pitting in the barrel or cylinder, in fact one's darned near perfect, so I don't expect anything regarding thin walls, but will check for it anyway. As far as the possibilty of smokeless powder having been used, that's good advice and I'll have to have them looked over by someone with better eyeballs and more brain cells than I have. No big hurry to shoot them so I want to get it right the first time. I mentioned one is ready to go - the other needs the cylinder base pin replaced. Do you know of source for these? I'll machine one if necessary but if I can buy one that might just need a little fitting, so much the better. I appreciate any leads for one. Thanks again!!
  • navc130navc130 Member Posts: 775 ✭✭✭
    edited November -1
    Slugging the barrel AND the cylinder will tell you the size relationship of the two and MAY determine what size ball to use. What is CRITICAL IS THAT THE BALL IS A TIGHT FIT IN THE CYLINDER. You should get a ring of lead scraped off the ball when you ram it in. That verifys it is a friction fit. A ball not tight enough can fall out during recoil and then that chamber ignites and burns like a mini flame-thrower which is a little unnerving. It also discolors the bluing.
    Balls should be seated to just below the cylinder face. If using a light load, corn meal or Cream-of-Wheat can be used as a filler or a wad.
    Edit: I think .001 oversize is NOT a tight enough fit. Be careful here; this is one of the most important safety aspects for the muzzle loading revolver. I recommend you read a good book on shooting black powder guns, like the Lyman Black Powder Handbook. It's not rocket science but there are procedures and rules that must be followed to be safe for both you and the gun.
    hogpuke: yes. 10,000 hours. Almost all in C-130's.
  • hogpukehogpuke Member Posts: 32 ✭✭
    edited November -1
    Thanks for the info. I measured the cylinder bores at .453 so I'll try a .454 ball and if that's marginal, go with a .457 and see how that works.
  • hogpukehogpuke Member Posts: 32 ✭✭
    edited November -1
    Hey navc130 - you crew on a C-130?
  • GatofeoGatofeo Member Posts: 230 ✭✭✭
    edited November -1
    If your chambers measure .453, I'd go with .457 balls.
    A mere .001 is too little. Remember, that works out to only .0005" on each side of the ball.
    Speer and Hornady make .457 balls, required by the Ruger Old Army. You should be able to find .457 balls easily enough.
  • hogpukehogpuke Member Posts: 32 ✭✭
    edited November -1
    I'll do that. I'm going to try to get by there tomorrow and get some balls. Thanks Gatofeo.
  • allen griggsallen griggs Member Posts: 33,014 ✭✭✭
    edited November -1
    Gatofeo is my guru on these pistols. I often read his informative posts on another forum, can't remember which forum that was I don't go there any more. Might have been graybeardoutdoors.

    I agree with him about chain fires coming from the nipple end.

    Gatofeo likes to reference the men whose lives depended upon these pistols, cavalry troopers of the Civil War.
    For us, Crisco smeared on top may seem like a good idea at the range.

    If you were riding around Richmond on a hot August day in 1863, it wouldn't work out too well to have your revolver grease melting, and running down your holster and your leg. I can't imagine Civil War troopers using this technique.

    I have a pair of 1860 Army pistols with round ball, strategically placed for home defense, one down stairs and one up.
    As Gatofeo's research has proved, Civil War troopers knew that one shot to the torso from this gun would "take the enemy out of his saddle, and out of the fight."
    I think it will prove adequate on a North Carolina meth head invading my home, might have to hit him twice, for good measure.
  • 62fuelie62fuelie Member Posts: 1,048 ✭✭✭
    edited November -1
    Wow, this is great info! Thanks, Gatofeo. I have a 3rd generation Colt 1860 with the studs on the frame for a detachable buttstock. I use .451 balls and they shave a nice uniform ring of lead on loading. Using 30 grains of fffg Pyrodex, a WonderWad over the powder and #11 caps I am amazed at the accuracy this technology produces. At 100 yards I usually put 1-3 rounds on a B-27 sillouette. Does anyone know if the 1860 buttstock made for the Uberti versions will fit mine?
  • flyingcollieflyingcollie Member Posts: 197 ✭✭✭
    edited November -1
    IMHO, greasing over the ball makes cleaning a bit easier. As for chain firing, in another thread on this forum discussing paper cartridges, the opinion is offered that chain-firing from the front of the cylinder could have been possible if a bit of paper escaped forward of the ball on ramming (?) For my part, it's always appeared to me that seating the ball (a soft lead one) results in quite an effective seal that I'd think would prevent chain-firing from the front end. Comments ?
  • GatofeoGatofeo Member Posts: 230 ✭✭✭
    edited November -1
    Yeah, I've long felt that a properly tight ball in the chamber would be sufficient obstruction for any flame to get past. I just don't see it happening.
    The key phrase being, "properly tight ball." I have a Colt 2nd generation 1851 Navy in which the .375 Speer or Hornady ball is nearly a slip-fit. I've actually pulled the ball back out with the rammer, after seating it, because grease on the end of the rammer created a suction between ball and rammer.
    It's why I went to .380" balls years ago. The little extra diameter is required in my Colt Navy, and works fine in my other .36 calibers. Some of my .36s could use the .375, their chambers are small enough, but it simplifies everything to just use the .380 ball.

    I use Gatofeo No. 1 Lubricant soaked into wool felt wads, between ball and powder. This provides enough lubrication to keep the cylinder from dragging against the rear of the barrel.
    On the cylinder pin, and moving parts inside the revolver, I use a mix of olive oil/beeswax. It doesn't take much beeswax melted with the olive oil to make a soft grease.
    I made so much of it years ago that I can't recall the ratio!
    More than 40 years ago, when I first began shooting cap and ball revolvers, I used Crisco over the ball. It was messy but worked. But I found that wool felt wads lubricated with Gatofeo No. 1 Lubricant are much easier to use, and quite effective.
    The wad and Gatofeo No. 1 Lube keep the bore relatively free of fouling for the entire length. Not so Crisco, which typically leaves the bore free of fouling for about 3/4 of its length, then suddenly there's a wealth of fouling clear to the muzzle. It's like the Crisco (and many other lubes) exhaust themselves.
    Not found that with the wool felt wad and GF No. 1 lube.

    Anyone who thinks cap and ball revolvers are simple mechanisms for launching a lead pellet -- well, they've never played around with one much. I'm still learning!
  • machine gun moranmachine gun moran Member Posts: 5,198
    edited November -1
    The only chain fire that I've experienced was when I decided to try a cylinder-full of unlubricated balls. But that may have been because my balls were not quite tight enough. i wasn't shaving much lead, when seating. I normally use Crisco over the top, from the squeeze-type of ketchup bottle with the long conical snout. It was the chamber to the left and the two to the right, that went off, along with the one that was under the hammer. The gun was undamaged, but there was stuff hitting everywhere.

    Speaking of chain fires, I almost had a full-automatic 1860, once. I had decided to experiment with two-ball loads, which meant that not much powder could be gotten into the chambers. With the first shot, both balls struck nearly together. When I went to cock the gun for the second shot, I noticed that the hammer was not down on the busted cap, but was resting on the edge of the slot for the next nipple. When the gun had fired, the hammer was apparently blown back to nearly the full-index position for the next shot and then fell forward again because the trigger was being held back. If I had bored out the nipple holes a little or weakened the mainspring, I would have had to pay the ATF $200, LOL.
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