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American Handgunner Jan/Feb 2012 Digital Edition - Page 32
HANDLOADING sAGe ADvIce FroM tHe HANDLoADING GUrUs JoHN tAFFIN old Colts like this early version are black powder only! The best bullets for successfully loading black powder cartridges are pure lead and carry maximum lube capacity. Black POwDer Basics e lmer Keith in 1936 writing in his book Sixgun Cartridges and Loads, recommended the novice reloader start out with black powder; he basically said just fill the case, crunch the bullet down and shoot. Yes, loads can be assembled the way he says, however if you’re looking for accuracy with black powder it’s necessary to add several steps and follow some basic guidelines. In fact, loading black powder successfully requires more time and knowledge than using smokeless powder. When loading smokeless powder I can get excellent results with commercial machine cast bullets of hard alloy matched up with a very hard lube, loaded over a proper charge, crimped and then fired. Quite often, loads thus assembled will shoot as good if not better then loads carefully assembled with home-cast bullets of the “proper” alloy and matching soft lube. But black powder needs more attention. Reloaders have long argued whether standard powder measures should be used with black powder. Lyman offers the #55 Black Powder Measure, and this powder dispenser is designed to prevent the possibility of a spark igniting the black powder in the hopper. Powder measures designed for smokeless use should never be used with black powder, due to the danger of electric sparking. This has not been proven under laboratory conditions — nor has it been disproved. Some manufacturers of BP substitutes now approve the use of a standard powder measure, so check with them individually. Primer Power O ne thing I find essential for loading black powder is magnum pistol primers, and I normally use CCI’s #350 Large Pistol. Black powder should be slightly compressed to aid ignition, and in no case should there ever be an airspace allowed in black powder cartridges. The base of the bullet should slightly compress the powder charge. Refer to the manufacture as to whether or not black powder substitutes should be compressed. Hodgdon’s recommends their Triple 7 be located right up against the base of the bullet without compression. I prefer to place a vegetable wad between bullet base and powder both to protect the base and to also help to reduce barrel fouling. Walters Wads offers a complete line of quality vegetable wads for any diameter desired. For the best possible results with black powder or black powder substitutes, bullets need to be of the proper alloy, proper size and properly lubricated. This means the use of relatively soft bullets, anywhere from pure lead to 1:30 tin, to lead alloy. Size the bullet to match the cylinder chamber mouths and lubricate with a special black powder lube such as SPG, Lyman Black Powder Gold or Thompson’s Black Powder Lubricant. The softer lubes help to keep the barrel fouling relatively soft. Old timers would cut wads from an old felt hat soaked in tallow. Today there is an easier way by simply using the Walters Wads, which are available in several calibers and precut from vegetable paper. Grease cookies can be made and cut from a cooled sheet of lube using the cartridge case as a cookie cutter, but is a lot of work and probably does not give any better results than using Walters Wads. The Colt Single Action Army was originally designed for black powder, and during the Army tests in the 1870s it was found they could shoot a Colt for 200 rounds, swab out the barrel and keep going with no other cleaning walter winans shot record groups in the 1880s necessary. Bullets with the Target model s&w new model #3 were soft, probchambered in .44 Russian — which ably pure lead. still stand today. Volume not weight! ll black or substitute powders are manufactured before 1900 and all topa loaded by volume, not by weight. break, big-bore Smith & Wessons are for The correct volume is enough powder to black powder only. Loading cartridges fill the case slightly above the base of the bullet thus allowing some compression. This is true for all black powders regardless of brand or granulation. However, some black powder substitute manufacturers will advise the powder should not be compressed, but simply loaded evenly with the base of the bullet. Follow the manufacturer’s directions. Today’s replica cartridge firing sixguns are safe to use with smokeless powder, although the originals, such as Colt SAAs with black powder or black powder substitutes requires more time and more steps than with smokeless powder. Cleaning firearms shot with black powder or black powder substitutes not only requires cleaning after each use, but also a more thorough cleaning than those firearms used with smokeless powder — it’s a messy, dirty job and has a unique smell. Firearms, hands and clothes will all be affected by the black powder with foul and residue to some extent; so will the mind, heart, soul and spirit. It is addictive and can cause brain damage, sixgunnin’-style, to the point the user feels smokeless powder is a passing fad. You have been warned. * Go to www.americanhandgunner.com and click on the Web Blast link at the top to see John’s favorite black powder loads! 32 WWW.AMERICANHANDGUNNER.COM • JANUARY/FEBRUARY2012