Black Powder for Self-Reliance – Part 3, by M.B.

(Continued from Part 2.)

Introductory Disclaimer (Repeated):
Making black powder, while safe in the author’s experimental experience, can be dangerous. The author and SurvivalBlog.com do not endorse making black powder, and you do so at your own risk. Making black powder could also be in violation of the laws in your jurisdiction. You are responsible for compliance with all laws in your area. Neither the author, nor SurvivalBlog.com, are responsible for your use of the information in this article. The processes described herein are therefore for informational purposes only.

Safety Note (Repeated):
Black powder can be dangerous if there is a gap between the powder and the projectile, when the firearm is loaded. When loading a muzzle loading firearm, be sure to seat the projectile firmly, so there is no empty space above the powder. This includes cap-and-ball revolvers, which can have no space between the powder and the ball or bullet, although wads can be used to fill the space when a light powder charge is used. When loading black powder cartridges, there must be no empty space inside the cartridge. You may need to use a wadding or other “filler” over the powder to take up the space inside the case.

IGNITION SYSTEMS

Black powder is ignited in firearms with a variety of methods. The first truly practical technology was the flintlock. The hammer held a piece of flint, or a similar mineral. When the trigger was pulled and the hammer fell, the flint would strike the steel frizzen and shower sparks into a pan of powder and ignite the main powder charge in the barrel. Although the more ancient matchlock could potentially be more reliable, the flintlock was a cost-effective firearm that could be kept loaded and ready at an instant’s notice.

Flintlocks are often suggested for survival when the stores are closed. While it’s true that a dedicated craftsman and shooter can keep a flintlock running almost indefinitely without resupply, the flintlock can be challenging for beginners. In some places [without rocky creek bottoms], suitable “flint” is hard to come by. Additionally, the percussion system has some advantages of its own.

It’s no coincidence that once percussion technology became widely available, it began to replace flintlocks in most places, especially in military firearms. Percussion firearms use a small metal cap with sensitive chemicals in it to set off the main charge. The cap is placed on a cone, or nipple, which has a tiny hole in it, leading into the breach of the firearm. When the cap is struck by the hammer, the chemicals in it ignite and in turn ignite the main powder charge.

Percussion caps are less affected by moisture than the loose fine-grained powder used to prime a flintlock. Although a good flintlock in good hands can be very reliable, percussion is more reliable in less skilled hands than a flintlock. The action is simpler and more compact, and is generally easier to maintain and repair.

One of the greatest advantages of the percussion cap is that its small size allows it to be used in black powder revolvers. A .44 black powder revolver is a powerful weapon that can still do the job, even though the earliest successful percussion revolver, the Colt Paterson, debuted 183 years ago!

Tap-O-Cap and Percussion CapsA percussion cap is also easier for the average person to make than one might think. For my experiment, I used a Tap-O-Cap tool that is nearly forty years old. It was designed to make caps from aluminum beverage cans, and I’ve made many percussion caps from soft drink cans over the years. This time, though, I used a discarded roasting pan for the caps that were used with my homemade powder. The priming material is toy paper caps (as used in old style “cap guns”).

Percussion nipples can be made by cutting a piece of a machine screw to length, drilling a hole through it, and reshaping one end to accept a percussion cap. It’s easier to purchase nipples right now, but they are relatively simple devices [for any machinist] to improvise in a pinch.

Important Safety Note: You must wear safety glasses when making or handling percussion caps!

MAKING PERCUSSION CAPS

Given the simple shape of a percussion cap, it’s not surprising that tools are available to make your own caps at home. The Tap-O-Cap, however, has long been out of production. They are difficult to find for sale, even on web sites such as eBay. A possible replacement for the Tap-o-Cap, from a company called Sharp Shooter, is their “#11 Percussion Cap Maker.” It is is now available for $44.95, but I have not had the opportunity to test one yet. It uses a product called “Prime-All” to fill the percussion caps. The company sells it as four harmless chemicals that are mixed correctly to make the priming material.

With a Tap-O-Cap, I can turn a strip of aluminum into a pile of empty percussion caps with pleated sides. The Tap-O-Cap came with a paper punch, which can be used to punch the centers out of toy paper caps. A small piece of wood dowel (I use a piece cut from a bamboo skewer) is used to gently press three toy caps into each newly-formed cap.

The caps I have made with a Tap-O-Cap over the years have worked surprisingly well, but caution must be used with cap-and-ball revolvers. Because of their pleated sides, the homemade caps cannot fit as tightly on the nipples as No. 10 or No. 11 percussion caps. It is possible that the loose fit could be the cause of a chain fire, where firing one revolver chamber sets off one or more of the other chambers. As you can see in the photo at the top of this article, there is plenty of fire present when a black powder revolver is discharged.

Because of this risk of chain fire, I load and shoot my revolver as a single shot when using homemade caps.

If I decided to carry a fully-loaded black powder revolver using homemade caps, I would probably try to squeeze each cap to ensure that it fit tightly on the nipple. I would then carefully apply a few drops of molten wax to seal around each cap, to try to prevent a spark from getting under one of the caps. I of course would not pour wax from a lit candle!

A better course of action would be to hoard my supply of Remington #10 factory-made caps and put them on four of the five loaded chambers. The chamber that was first to come under the hammer would have a homemade cap on it. If I only needed to take one shot, I would avoid using a factory cap for that shot with this method.

TESTING HOMEMADE POWDER AND HOMEMADE CAPS

Blackpowder RevolverI tested my homemade powder and percussion caps with an Uberti replica of the 1863 Remington New Model Army revolver in .44 caliber (actually it’s a .45). This is the gun that is commonly — and erroneously — referred to as the “1858 Remington.” The Remington “NMA” is an excellent design and is popular with Civil War re-enactors and black powder shooters. It has a solid top strap, unlike the Colt designs and hence is a strong revolver with a somewhat modern look. The Remington also has safety notches in the cylinder, allowing a fairly good degree of safety for carry with six loaded chambers. I will continue to recommend loading five and lowering the hammer on an empty chamber, however.

Ballistically, the Remington makes good use of black powder. It also has an 8-inch barrel for higher velocities. Its deep chambers allow for the larger charges of powder than some other .44 cap-and-ball revolvers. It was easy to load 35 grains of powder. I was able to load 40 grains, but the amount of powder compression was more than I consider safe. Smaller charges can be used, of course, by seating the bullet or ball deeper in the chamber to rest against the powder.

This article describes a “worst case scenario” test. I imagined a person who did not have access to the ideal components for loading the revolver. I used hardware store and grocery store chemicals, though I did purchase my charcoal from a chemical company, as I could find no willow trees growing anywhere near me. By the way, willow charcoal is widely considered to be the best.

For lead, I scavenged lead from the backstop of a local pistol range, imagining that a person might have to use whatever scrap lead they could find. The lead turned out to be much too hard and caused problems for me. More on that, later. For the caps, I tried a roasting pan that I found in the trash at a barbecue. It was used only for serving and cleaned up easily.

Lubricants

Non-petroleum lube is needed when shooting black powder. I made up a small batch of homemade “bore butter,” melting 1 ounce each (by weight) of olive oil and beeswax in an empty cat food can in a pan of water. I used the 50/50 recipe because I live in the Deep South and would be shooting in summer heat. The ingredients are popular, but some shooters use as much as four parts oil to one part beeswax for lube that won’t freeze solid in the depths of winter. The common recipe is one part beeswax to two parts olive oil or other fat. Don’t use a fat that contains salt, such as bacon grease.

I used a cat food can because I buy the plastic lids that fit them. These cans are great for mixing and storing various lubes for shooting. To make lubed felt wads, melt some lube in a can and stir in the wads until the lube is used up. Leave the wads in the can and let it cool, then put a lid on it. Another convenient type of can is a recycled shoe polish tin. The little, rotating “key” on the side is very handy when hands are slippery after shooting cap-and-ball revolvers!

(To be concluded tomorrow, in Part 4.)




9 Comments

  1. I must state that using black powder for self defense should be the last option, you cannot be pro second amendment and already be willing to prepare for an alternative like black powder due to possible gun confiscation or legislative actions. If this is a mindset that is predominant we are in big trouble. Don’t be cowards people

  2. I enjoy the learning experience of this article and having an ultimate ‘fall back” alternative in black powder. But if we as the citizens of the USA reach that point, then agreeing with Jeremy, we are in big trouble. There are a reported 350 million firearms in the USA, outnumbering the population. If some of the scenarios that are illustrated in literature and government studies ever came to pass, ie) a CME or EMP, where the projections indicate a 90% die-off, then there will be an abundance of firearms and ammunition for the survivors. BATFE wont have much to say about it. But then again, do you survive?

    1. I believe that as preppers our perceptions tend to be skewed. We assume that because we have thousands of rounds of ammo tucked away, then so does everyone else. The sad truth is that the average gun owner has just a couple of boxes of centerfire cartridges for each of their guns. Even my own father, who was a veteran, kept just two or three 20-round boxes of ammunition at a time for each of his three deer rifles. If there is a big economic collapse, mass starvation, and die-of, then that will generate a lot of violence. The end result will be 350 million+ functional guns, but precious little ammo for them. So stock up, and hedge a bit into alternatives!

      1. Agreed. Buy now. Buy alot. Visit the vendors whom advertise here. Support your local blogger. This is our community. Case quantities of everything if you can afford it. Hit the gunshows. Pay cash when possible. Scour local stores, pawn shops, swap meets (I scored an 8lb can of IMR 4064 for $15.) Happy shopping! 🙂

    2. We don’t have to worry about gun confiscation or “them” taking them by force. Like everything today, we will give up our rights voluntarily and say NOTHING. We said nothing when “they” took prayer out of public schools in the 60’s. We said nothing when “they” took the lives of babies in their mothers’ wombs-abortion in the 70’s. We said nothing when they allowed women the leadership roles over men (hot topic lately) in the 80’s and that is against God’s law. We said nothing when they flipped the public school/university curiculums to a Marxist/Communist bent in the 90’s. We said nothing when “they” rammed Gay marriage through the supreme court in the 10’s.

      WE WILL SAY NOTHING WHEN “THEY” RAM GUN CONTROL THROUGH TO REDUCE AMERICA TO AUSTRALIA.

      “They” are in for the long shot and incrementally take away rights so subtly that WE wont raise a barrel to stop them.

      America is the only country where it is legal to have a revolution. It is written in our Constitution. Ben Carson said it eloquently, “we are far overdue for a revolution.”

      We will do nothing!

  3. Black powder — or a modern substitute, like Pyrodex — is a great choice if you want to “modernize” your black powder revolver with a cartridge cylinder, like those from Kirst or Taylor’s. They warn users to stay with low-velocity lead bullet loads, but using black powder in the cartridges pretty much ensures that pressures will stay within the limits of the revolver and cylinder.

    A black powder .45 Colt load with a 200-250 grain bullet from a long barrel is probably at least at .45 ACP power levels, if not higher.

    Besides, it’s always good to have alternatives that are much harder for the powers that be to control. Can’t stop the signal!

  4. Just a reminder boys & girls, as I’ve stated before with regards to Ammo, Powder, and Primers: If you can load a one ton dually truck up with all the ammo you have for each caliber firearm you have, and the tire’s ain’t flat – YOU DON’T HAVE ENOUGH!!! Same goes for primers and powder. On a positive note, it also keeps the ammo, primer, & powder companies in business. To say nothing of really irritating the gun grabbers. That’s the best part! BLOAT, and then BLOAT some more….. Besides, why pass on to your kids when the Lord calls you to the “Big House” phony money based on a fake value when you can leave em something of real value….

    1. NS, I agree with you, but sadly, “the kids” sometimes don’t. Nearly every time we visit our local gun shop, there will be an older fellow come in (by older I mean my age) with one or two nice firearms, usually hunting rifles. The story is always “My heart/knees/back just won’t handle going out into the woods to hunt anymore, and my kids don’t want my rifles.” They end up selling their precious weapons to the gun shop for a pittance, just to get them out of the house before they move into assisted living. Sometimes I think we should camp out near the parking lot and intercept these guys!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.