The important thing about taking on a new hobby is to actually go and start doing it. Hopefully by now you have secured yourself a black powder pistol after I showed you how where and why. And now it’s time to burn some powder, which I also showed you where to get it.
One of the problems out there right now is a lack of percussion caps. If you can only get #10, get some #10s. You may have to fire your hammer twice per cylinder, but they will work. The Remington and RWS caps are much softer than CCIs, and will snap much more reliably on the first try. Ideally you want #11.
There is also a percussion cap making system you can purchase, but they are a bit behind on orders right now. I don’t have time to review it this week, but there is a video on their website.
Once you have your caps and powder, you’ll need some balls or bullets. They do have some bullets at cartridgekits.com, but they are pricey, like all other ammo these days. Otherwise, you should secure some balls, which are still readily available, for now, at reasonable prices.
For a 44, you want to look for .451, .454, or .457. The .451 will seat easily, and it will get progressively harder as the ball gets bigger and the cylinder shaves a thicker ring. The Johnson & Dow bullet is .460 at its widest, and is much harder to shave and seat. Note that the J&D bullet does not fit a ’51 Navy 44 without first tapping the bullet in from the side. If you secured a Ruger Old Army, the .457 is the right roundball, and the conicals work fine.
For a 36, you are looking for .375 roundballs. Don’t ask me why they didn’t just call the calibers what they are. I was not a consultant on that project. Likewise the conical bullets are going to be larger, like .390 for the Richmond lab bullets, and those are particularly difficult to shave. Watch the included video for a tip on how to deal with that without beating up your gun.
There are other accessories that will make your job easier. Certainly a powder flask with a spout makes dumping powder at the range easier. You can cut the spout for how much powder you want, then hold your thumb over the mouth, tip it upside down, work the lever, and put the lever back. Then lift your thumb over the chamber.
In my video I showed you that you don’t need that though. So don’t get overwhelmed thinking that you need a lot of extra toys to shoot your gun. Just go and shoot it. The toys are fun and can come later.
Likwise all of the stuff at cartridgekits.com. Paper cartridges are awesome. You can make them while you are binge watching Deadwood again. Then there is no powder mess and fumbling at the range. With a capper it is almost like using real ammo.
The capper you can also buy. It can help you seat pesky #10 caps on BP pistols so that you don’t have to strike them twice as often. It gives you a little hand right there to help seat the cap deeper.
Put the gun on halfcock so you can turn the cylinder freely.
Start by snapping a cap in each cylinder. The manufacturers suggest this to get manufacturing or cleaning oils out of the nipple. I personally never do this, but can’t neglect mentioning it.
Then pour your powder into the cylinders one by one. Leave at least a half of the ball or bullet size at the top of the cylinder empty to make sure you have plenty of room to seat the ball or bullet. Once I do a few, if I want more snot out of my shots, I can gradually up it to where the ball is at the top under full compression.
I am explaining how I do it, no instructing you on how you should do it. It is thought generally that it is impossible to dangerously overload a black powder firearm with black powder or a substitute, but hey you never know.
Then, being careful to not dump your powder, put one ball at a time on top of the powder and rotate the cylinder so that the ball is under the rammer. Then unclip the rammer and smoothly seat the ball. If you are loading difficult conicals, you may want to use a steel tube over the lever as I show in the video. If you can’t seem to seat without dumping the powder on the other cylinders, just do one at at time.
Do not cap your cylinders yet. Because though I am not a safety nanny, there is a safety step you have to do here. Take some bullet lube, grease, or even Crisco, and cover the top of the cylinder with whatever you are using. Or buy some lubricated wads and use those.
This prevents what is called a chainfire.
When you fire a cylinder, a lot of fire is compressed into the cylinder gap, and flames shoot out of the sides. If you do not put something over the adjacent cylinders, they can ignite. Not a fun time.
Paper cartridges, when lubed correctly have the lube already there, and you just thumb it down into the cylinder. If you don’t lube them correctly, (like the tool on youtube selling lube sticks with his cheapo cartridge kits on Etsy shows you), make sure to still lube the cylinder as it should be.
Once your cylinders are lubed, then you can cap them. As I showed in the video, it is much easier with a capping tool, but one is not required.
I inserted a segment showing you RWS #1075 caps, because the CCI #10s are very hard and nearly always require two hits on at least a couple cylinders. If you can find the RWS caps, or Remington brand, you don’t have to worry about the size. They have an expanding body, and they are made from thinner copper, so they always go bang the first try. I know that powderinc.com is taking back orders for the RWS caps, but you have to order 1,000. I had been planning to start this Black Powder Project and happened to have ordered a sleeve of 2,500 before the pandemic.
Thats it. Shoot your gun. One warning though, that if you are shooting real black powder, take a tupperware with some soapy water to the range with you, and wipe your cylinder face after you shoot each cylinder. If you don’t, black powder will leave enough fouling that it can make the cylinder hard to turn. Shooting paper cartridges with plenty of lube makes this less of a problem, because the lube keeps the whole mess gooey and greasy. But it never hurts.