.... May 2005 ~~~~ Editor:  Cliff Hanger ~~~~

Adventures in Black Powder Reloading by Engineer BILL

  I shoot 45 Colt in my Marlin and Uberti 73, and I wanted to try that Black Powder. How hard could it be?  You don’t even need to measure it, just be sure you have the cases full, right? 

  Loading up some of my standard rounds, the only change being the cases were filled with FFg black powder rather that the usual 5 grains of Tite Group, I was off to the range. To make a long and painful story mercifully short, the barrel rifling fouled to the point of inaccuracy within twenty shots and the action would become gritty and stiff to operate in about ten shots. The extracted cases were blackened and sooty inside and out. Was it that the 45 Colt cartridge was just not something to be used with black powder? Well no, the 45 Colt cartridge originally came out in black powder, it is just that it was a pistol cartridge. The cartridge designed for use in a rifle, the 44-40, was different in some subtle, but very important ways. 

  Never the less, I wanted to try black powder in the 45 Colt rifles I had and started down the list of general accepted solutions. 

 Starting with the problem of barrel rifling fouling, it was clear the texts weren’t kidding when they pointed out that when black powder burns it leaves behind one half of it’s original weight in ash. Ash that had to be taken seriously, kept soft and moved out of the way.

  Black powder lube is a known item and can be concocted or purchased. I baked my standard smokeless lubed bullets on a tray lined with paper towels in the oven to remove the smokeless lube, judging that less messy than boiling them in water. I tried the pan lube method and that worked. In the end, I just used a standard smokeless lubed bullet and a hard wax “cookie”, made by using an empty brass case as a “cookie” cutter, between the bullet and the powder. This seemed the simplest solution and gave me the triple benefits of, a reduced load of black powder, plenty of lube, the use of a standard bullet.

  Dealing with the fouling of the mechanisms of the rifle was a more enduring and mysterious problem.  Clearly the cases were not sealing the chamber; gas and ash were getting back into the works. The conventional wisdom here was to use, a tighter crimp and/or, a heavier bullet, hoping the increased pressure would expand the brass and get a better seal.  Magnum primers and fffg powder were used looking for better ignition and a faster and more complete burn. Of these changes, the use of fffg powder was the only one adopted. I was having very little success.

  I reconsidered the Starline brass cases I was using.  Nicely made, with a good sized extraction groove, tuff and long lasting, perhaps it was their very strength that was working against me. Looking at some 44-40 brass, it was defiantly thinner at the mouth; you could flex it with your fingers.

  I made up some test rounds on my press. The 44-40 brass went through the full length resize just fine, but it did look a little odd expanded for the bullet and with case mouth belled. Bullet seated and crimped, a completed round looked starved or slightly wasp waisted between the bullet and base. By the second firing the cases were “fire formed” to 45 colt exterior dimensions but with the thin, more flexible 44-40 brass. This cured my fouling problems. My black powder 44-40 brass ejected cleaner than my 45 colt brass in smokeless from the same rifle. 

  I can now shoot an 8 stage match without swabbing the bore or cleaning the action. Using the 45 colt brass for smokeless and the 44-40 brass for black powder it is easy to tell them apart.

  I enjoyed this little project.  I didn’t come up with any new ideas, and was helped with advise from experts I respect and admire and was finally able to bring my own understanding in line with the state of the art, of 150 years ago.

Best Regards,
Engineer BILL 

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