|2011 is coming to an end. by Cliff Hanger
2012 is upon us. The Brimstone Gazette has 7 years of
articles. I made a mistake right from the start by not putting a
hit counter in the Gazette. I don't know how many readers I have. Maybe
a lot and maybe none. I don't know. I am finding it harder and harder to
find articles and get others to write articles to put out there for everyone
I have a thought. No one wants to write articles but how
about a questions and answer section? If you have any BP (or substitute)
related questions, e-mail them to me. I will find someone who can answer
your question and publish both the question and the answers in the Gazette.
At the bottom of every Brimstone Gazette there is a Submit
Articles link. That will open an e-mail window where you can send your
questions directly to me.
If the Brimstone Gazette is to continue, please send in
your questions and/or your articles that you want to share.
|Historical Aspects and Black Powder Manufacturing
Michael A. Rosen, Ph.D., M.D.
Dade Behring Diagnostics™
Medical Products Division-DuPont Chemical®
Black powder was the original gunpowder and practically
the only known propellant and explosive until the middle of the 19th century.
Although it can explode (only when tightly compressed) [NOTE: I have first
hand experience with black powder exploding when confined but NOT compressed.
Forty Rod], its principal use is as a propellant. Gunpowder was invented
by Chinese chemists in the 9th century. Originally, it was made by mixing
elemental sulfur (S), charcoal (C), and “saltpeter” properly named potassium
nitrate (KNO3). For the most powerful black powder "meal" a wood charcoal
is used. The best wood for the purpose is pacific willow, however, grapevine,
hazel, elder, laurel and even pine cones have been used. Charcoal is not
the only carbon fuel that can be used. Sugar is used instead in many pyrotechnic
applications.The ingredients are mixed as thoroughly as possible. This
is achieved using a ball mill with non-sparking grinding apparatus (using
lead balls), or similar device. The ingredients are mixed as thoroughly
When the ingredients were carefully ground together, the
end result was a powder that was called 'serpentine.' The ingredients tended
to require remixing prior to use, so making powder did involve significant
risk. Powder works realized that a large portion of the risk could be mitigated
by making certain that the serpentine remained wet through out all but
the last step of its manufacture.
Black powder was also “corned” as a simple but
effective means by which its burn rate could be adjusted. The initial step
of the corning process was to compress the fine black powder "meal" into
wet cakes or blocks of a “standardized” density (1.7 g/cm³ or grams
per cubic centimeter). The blocks, once allowed to dry would harden and
become brittle, then broken up into granules. The granules would then sorted
by size to yield the various “grain sizes” or grades of black powder. Standard
grades of black powder run from the coarse and slower burning Fg grade
used in large bore rifles and small cannon though FFg (medium and small-bore
rifles), FFFg (pistols), and FFFFg the very fine and faster burning (small-bore,
short pistols and priming flintlocks). Very coarse black powder was used
in mining before the development of nitroglycerine and dynamite.
Chemistry, Composition and Combustion of Black Powder
The optimum proportions for gunpowder are: 74.64% saltpeter,
13.51% charcoal, and 11.85% sulfur (by mass). The current standard for
black powder manufactured by pyrotechnicians today is 75% potassium nitrate,
15% softwood charcoal and 10% sulfur. A simple, commonly cited, chemical
equation for the combustion of black powder is:
2 KNO3 + S + 3C → K2S + N2 + 3CO2
A more accurate, but still simplified, equation is:
10 KNO3 + 3S + 8C →2K2CO3 + 3K2SO4 + 6 CO2
The products of burning do not follow any simple equation.
One study's results showed it produced (in order of descending quantities):
55.91% solid products: Potassium carbonate, Potassium sulfate, Potassium
sulfide, Sulfur, Potassium nitrate, Potassium thiocyanate, Carbon, Ammonium
carbonate. 42.98% gaseous products: Carbon dioxide, Nitrogen, Carbon monoxide,
Hydrogen sulfide, Hydrogen, Methane. 1.11% water
Black powder is classified as a low explosive, that is,
it deflagrates (burns) rapidly. High explosives detonate at a rate approximately
10 times faster than the burning of black powder. Although black powder
is not a high explosive, the United States Department of Transportation
classifies it as a "Class A High Explosive" for shipment because it is
so easily ignited. Highly destructive explosions at fireworks manufacturing
plants are rather common events, especially in Asia. Complete manufactured
devices containing black powder are usually classified as "Class C Fireworks",
"Class C Model Rocket Engines", etc. for shipment because they are harder
to ignite than the loose powder.
To summarize, black powder consists of a fuel (charcoal
or sugar) and an oxidizer that supplies oxygen to the reaction during combustion
(saltpeter or niter), and sulfur, a “matrix constituent” that allows a
more stable, hotter, even burning combustion reaction. The carbon from
the charcoal plus oxygen forms carbon dioxide and energy. The reaction
would be slow, like a wood fire, except for the oxidizing agent. In order
to burn efficiently carbon (charcoal) must be able draw oxygen rapidly
from the air. The saltpeter (potassium nitrate) provides that extra oxygen.
Potassium nitrate, sulfur, and carbon react together to form large volumes
of nitrogen and carbon dioxide gases and potassium sulfide. The large volume
of expanding gases, nitrogen and carbon dioxide, provide the propelling
force imparted to projectiles by black powder combustion.
Here are some questions regarding Civil War black powder:
1. What is the ignition temperature of Civil War black
powder? Potassium nitrate black powder can be ignited with a low
temperature flame, but ignites more readily with a hotter flame closer
to the decomposition temperature of potassium nitrate which is about 400°C.
It is ignited in firearms using concussion and friction/spark. Merely heating
it up won't ignite the propellant.
2. What is the detonating temperature of Civil War black
powder? It doesn't explode.
3. Is it highly sensitive to impact? No. Friction
- if it leads to sparking, static electricity, spark, and flame. Static
Electricity is a spark finer powder FFFG & FFFFG could be more susceptable;
spark - yes by design; flame - yes by design
4. If you drop a Civil War shell could it explode?
It could if it has a percussion, fulminate of mercury (mercury diisothiocyanate),
detonator on its nose and if the slider is able to move freely. The
percussion cap also has to be resting on the nipple in order for the slider
to strike against the anvil cap. This is highly unlikely that a excavated
percussion fuzed shell would explode when dropped.
5. Does the powder get stronger with age? No
6. Does the powder turn to Nitro Glycerin? No
rev1 publish date July 30, 2006
|Sharps Rifle from Wikipedia
Sharps rifles were those of a series that began with a
design by Christian Sharps. Sharps rifles were renowned for long range
and high accuracy in their day.
Sharps's initial rifle was patented September 17, 1848
and manufactured by A. S. Nippes at Mill Creek, (Philadelphia) Pennsylvania
The second model used the Maynard tape primer, and surviving
examples are marked Edward Maynard - Patentee 1845. In 1850 the second
model was brought to the Robbins & Lawrence Company of Windsor, Vermont
where the Model 1851 was developed for mass production. Rollin White of
the R&L Co. invented the knife-edge breech block and self-cocking device
for the "box-lock" Model 1851. This is referred to as the "First Contract",
which was for 5,000 Model 1851 carbines - of which approximately 1,650
were produced by R&L in Windsor.
In 1851 the "Second Contract" was made for 15,000 rifles
and the Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company was organized as a holding company
with $1,000 in capital and with John C. Palmer as president, Christian
Sharps as engineer, and Richard S. Lawrence as master armorer and superintendent
of manufacturing. Sharps was to be paid a royalty of $1 per firearm and
the factory was built on R&L's property in Hartford, Connecticut.
The Model 1851 was replaced in production by the Model
1853. All Sharps rifles were manufactured in Windsor until October 1856.
Christian Sharps left the company in 1853; Richard S. Lawrence continued
as the chief armorer until 1872 and developed the various Sharp models
and their improvements that made the rifle famous.
The 1874-pattern Sharps was a particularly popular rifle
that led to the introduction of several derivatives in quick succession.
It handled a large number of .40- to .50-caliber cartridges in a variety
of loadings and barrel lengths.
Hugo Borchardt designed the Sharps-Borchardt Model 1878,
the last rifle made by the Sharps Rifle Co. before its closing in 1881.
Reproductions of the paper cartridge Sharps M1859 and
M1863 Rifle and Carbine, the metallic cartridge 1874 Sharps Rifle, and
Sharps-Borchardt Model 1878 are being manufactured today. They are used
in Civil War re-enacting, hunting and target shooting.
Sharps military rifles and carbines
Sharps Model 1852 "Slanting Breech"
Carbine, open for loading, two
|The military Sharps rifle (also known as the Berdan Sharps
rifle) was a falling block rifle used during and after the American Civil
War. Along with being able to use a standard percussion cap, the Sharps
had a fairly unusual pellet primer feed. This was a device which held a
stack of pelleted primers and flipped one over the nipple each time the
trigger was pulled and the hammer fell - making it much easier to fire
a Sharps from horseback than a gun employing individually loaded percussion
The Sharps Rifle was produced by the Sharps Rifle Manufacturing
Company in Hartford, Connecticut. It was used in the Civil War by the U.S.
Army sharpshooters, known popularly as "Berdan's Sharpshooters" in honor
of their leader Hiram Berdan. The Sharps made a superior sniper weapon
of greater accuracy than the more commonly issued muzzle-loading rifled
muskets. This was due mainly to the higher rate of fire of the breech loading
mechanism and superior quality of manufacture.
Sharps military carbine
Some Civil War-issue carbines had an unusual feature: a coffee
mill in the stock.
|The carbine version was very popular with the cavalry
of both the Union and Confederate armies and was issued in much larger
numbers than the full length rifle. The falling block action lent itself
to conversion to the new metallic cartridges developed in the late 1860s,
and many of these converted carbines in .50-70 Government were used during
the Indian Wars in the decades immediately following the Civil War.
Original 1863 carbine in .50-70 Government.
Sharps sporting rifles
Sharps made sporting versions from the late 1840s until
the late 1880s. After the American Civil War, converted Army surplus rifles
were made into custom firearms, and the Sharps factory produced Models
1869 and 1874 in large numbers for commercial buffalo hunters and frontiersmen.
These large-bore rifles were manufactured with some of the most powerful
black powder cartridges ever made. Sharps also fabricated special long-range
target versions for the then-popular Creedmore style of 1,000-yard (910
m) target shooting. Many modern black powder cartridge silhouette shooters
use original and replica Sharps rifles to target metallic silhouettes cut
in the shapes of animals at ranges up to 500 meters. Shiloh Rifle Manufacturing
Company, and C Sharps Arms of Big Timber, Montana, have been manufacturing
reproductions of the Sharps Rifle since 1983 and 1979, respectively.
Movies which showed the strengths of the Sharps rifle
are the 1990 western Quigley Down Under where Tom Selleck's title character's
Sharps rifle has a 34" barrel as opposed to a standard length barrel of
30" and Burt Lancaster's character, Bob Valdez, in the movie Valdez Is
Coming. As a result of Quigley Down Under a Sharps match is held annually
every year in Forsyth, Montana known as the "Quigley Match". A 44-inch
target is placed at 1,000 yards for each shooter, remniscent of a scene
from the movie. Theater Crafts Industry went so far as to say, "In Quigley
Down Under, which we did in 1990, the Sharps rifle practically co- stars
with Tom Selleck." This statement was echoed by gunwriters including John
Taffin in Guns and Lionel Atwill in Field & Stream. Gun manufacturers
such as Davide Pedersoli and Shiloh Rifle Manufacturing Company have credited
these movies with an increase in demand for those rifles. An 1874 Sharps
Carbine in 45-70 calibre played a prominent role in both movie versions
of True Grit. Texas Ranger La Boeuf extolled the power and accuracy of
his Sharps early and often in both films. His "bully" 400 yard shot (Mattie's
estimate in the 2010 Coen brother's version) killed Lucky Ned Pepper and
saved the horse-pinned Marshall Cogburn from execution at his hand.
|Colt Revolving Rifle from Wikipedia
The Colt Revolving Rifle Model 1855 was an early repeating
rifle produced by the Colt's Manufacturing Company.
Revolving rifles were an attempt to increase the rate
of fire of rifles by combining them with the revolving firing mechanism
that had been developed earlier for revolving pistols. Colt began experimenting
with revolving rifles in the early 19th century, and made the revolving
rifles in a variety of calibers and barrel lengths. Colt revolving rifles
were the first repeating rifles adopted by the U.S. Government, and an
early model was used in the Seminole wars in 1838.
The most widely produced revolving rifle was the Model
1855. This was produced in a rifle version as well as a shortened carbine.
In 1855 it became the first repeating rifle to be adopted for service by
the U.S. Military, but problems with the design prevented its use until
1857. The principal problem was that gunpowder would sometimes leak from
the paper cartridges in field conditions, lodging in various recesses around
the firing cylinder. Hot gas leaking from the gap between the firing cylinder
and the barrel would ignite this powder, which would in turn, ignite all
of the powder in the chambers waiting to be fired. This is known as a "chain
fire" and was a relatively common failure with early percussion revolving
firearms. When this happened with the Colt Revolving Rifle, a spray of
metal would be sent forward into the left arm and hand of the user.
This fault resulted in an understandable distrust in the
weapon. Commanders attempted to get around the problem in a number of ways.
The rifle had to be properly and thoroughly cleaned, since sloppy cleaning
would leave residue behind that would increase the risk of a chain fire.
Some commanders instructed their men to fire the weapon only while supporting
it directly in front of the trigger guard or by holding the lowered loading
lever, which moved their left hand out of the path of danger during a chain
fire. Other commanders instructed their men to load only a single chamber,
preventing any chain fires from occurring. Loading a single chamber at
a time also reduced the weapon to a single shot weapon, effectively defeated
the entire purpose of having a repeating rifle.
Design and Features
The design of the Colt revolving rifle was essentially
similar to revolver type pistols, with a rotating cylinder that held five
or six rounds in a variety of calibers from .36 to .64 inches.
The Model 1855, which was the most widely produced revolving
rifle, was available in .36, .44 and .56 caliber. Four barrel lengths were
available: 15, 18, 21 and 24 inches. A six shot cylinder was used if the
caliber was .36 or the .44. If the caliber was .56, a five-shot cylinder
Colt Model 1855 Carbine
The revolving rifle used percussion caps, like revolving
pistols of the time. A cartridge consisting of powder and a lead ball were
loaded into the front of the chamber, and were then compressed with a plunger
that was located beneath the barrel. Once the cylinder's chambers were
loaded, percussion caps were placed over the vent nipples at the rear of
the cylinder. The weapon was now ready to fire. In addition to being susceptible
to chain fire problems, the revolving cylinder design also tended to spray
lead splinters into the wrist and hand of the user. Revolving pistols did
not suffer from this problem since the user kept both hands behind the
cylinder while firing a pistol.
Some models could be fitted with sword style bayonets.
In these rifles, the front sight would double as the bayonet lug.
A combination of Colt revolving pistols and revolving
rifles were used on the Pony Express by the eight men who guarded the dangerous
run between Independence, Missouri, and Sante Fe. When doubts were expressed
about the ability of these eight men to reliably deliver the letters on
this run, the Missouri government declared that "these eight men are ready
in case of attack to discharge 136 shots without having to reload. We have
no fears for the safety of the mail." All mail deliveries on this route
were completed safely.
The U.S. Government had purchased 765 Colt revolving carbines
and rifles prior to the Civil War. Many of these were shipped to southern
locations and ended up being used by the Confederacy during the U.S. Civil
War. After the war began, the Union purchased many more rifles and carbines.
Sources disagree over the exact number purchased, but approximately 4,400
to 4,800 were purchased in total over the length of the war.
The weapon performed superbly in combat, seeing action
with the 21st Ohio Volunteer Infantry Union forces at Snodgrass Hill during
the Battle of Chickamauga during the American Civil War. The volume of
fire from this weapon proved to be so useful that the Confederate forces
were convinced that they were attacking an entire division, not just a
single regiment. Despite these victories of the weapon, the rifle's faults
would prove fatal for the weapon. A board of officers met, and after evaluating
the evidence, it decided to discontinue the use of the weapon. The weapons
were sold for 42 cents a rifle, a fraction of the original purchase cost
of 44 dollars each.
Use in film
In 3:10 to Yuma (2007) the Mexican sharpshooter Campos
(Rio Alexander) carries a Colt Model 1855 fitted with a full length telescopic
sight and converted to fire metallic cartridges.
In the John Wayne movie El Dorado, actor Arthur Hunnicut's
character, Bull Harris, carries a Model 1855 revolving carbine as his main
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