Common Wisdom

When loading black powder guns, you must always seat the projectile hard against the powder charge, no matter what.  Never, ever, ever leave an air space between powder and bullet, or it could create a pressure spike and blow your gun to smithereens.

When loading smokeless powder, never, ever seat the bullet too deep, even if there’s a huge air space in there (38 Spl comes to mind) or it could create a pressure spike and blow your gun to smithereens.

You should never, ever use smokeless powder in a black powder gun, because it could create a pressure spike and blow your gun to smithereens.

If you’re loading smokeless powder in a metal cartridge case designed for black powder, to be loaded into a gun designed for black powder cartridges, it is not only OK, it is recommended, and universally used both by hand loaders and ammunition manufacturers.  Using black powder in a black powder metal cartridge is a relatively rare, esoteric art. So rare in fact that the loading manuals almost never mention doing it.  It will dirty up your gun, so always use smokeless unless you just want to make some smoke and be a show-off.

Smokeless will blow my percussion revolver to smithereens!  Unless I install a cartridge conversion cylinder, in which case it will be fine with thousands of 45 Colt smokeless loads.

So can I take from all that, assuming it’s all true, that I can safely use smokeless powder in my 1858 Remington percussion revolver, using the percussion cylinder, so long as I observe loading data for, say, the 44 Russian cartridge, and be SURE to leave a sizeable air gap between powder and ball?  Or is something in the above paragraphs not true?  Surely it’s either/or.

Not that I intend to try it, or that I even want to try it, mind you, but to make a point about Common Wisdom.

8 thoughts on “Common Wisdom

  1. Lyle, what am I missing here? Two of your statements seem to me to be contradicting each other:

    You should never, ever use smokeless powder in a black powder gun, because it could create a pressure spike and blow your gun to smithereens.

    If you’re loading smokeless powder in a metal cartridge case designed for black powder, to be loaded into a gun designed for black powder cartridges, it is not only OK, it is recommended, and universally used both by hand loaders and ammunition manufacturers.

    Does the use of a metal cartridge add enough strength to allow the use of modern smokeless powder in a black powder firearm?

    Sam

  2. Common sense also dictates that you don’t negligently discharge your blackpowder weapon into the air in order to get it ready for cleaning.

  3. Starting from first intent, the cartridge conversion cylinder would be designed and built to safely fire the cartridge for which it is specified. As for the rest, well, different things are…….different.

  4. To me, it sounds like a lot of experimenting is in order! If not literally, then at least via “Finite Element Analysis”.

    I really wish I had the time to set up an “FEA engine” of my own. I have this crazy idea that I might be able to make a living using it, but even if I couldn’t, there are all sorts of stupid things like this that I’m just itching to experiment with!

  5. “Lyle, what am I missing here? Two of your statements seem to me to be contradicting each other:”

    Ding ding ding ding ding! Exactly.

    I’m not saying they’re wrong, but if they’re right I want some data, thank you, and yet I’ve never seen any of this explained, verified or even questioned.

    “Does the use of a metal cartridge add enough strength to allow the use of modern smokeless powder in a black powder firearm?”

    Bore out the chamber steel to accommodate a thin brass case to make the gun stronger, you mean? (a percussion revolver has smaller chamber diameters because it holds the bullet same as a brass case, so to hold the bullet, plus the brass, the chamber has to be larger – there are exceptions that use a heeled bullet but those are relatively rare except for the 22 rimfire). Hence the steel is thicker in a percussion cylinder compared to its cartridge conversion cylinder. So now I suppose we have to talk about alloy and heat treat, but even then the frame and barrel are the same either way.

    I think we’re seeing some well intentioned advice for preventing accidents, which may not necessarily be correct in the general sense. Smokeless propellants are extremely energetic compared to Old Black. I really appreciate the explanation in the Speer reloading manual. They say that maximum charge in their data means maximum charge. No really; maximum. They go on to explain that they haven’t dumbed down the loads for those idiots who’re going to push beyond them thinking there’s enough safety margin to play with that they never tell you about. They say they did all the pushing and that’s the end of the line, so if you’re still a blooming idiot they’re not responsible.

    IF (that’s capital “I”, capital “F” IF) this is well intentioned but not necessarily always valid advice it brings up another, very important and very broad point. If you dumb down your advice you could be doing more harm than good by discrediting other well intentioned but very valid advice or discrediting “expert” advice in general. It happens. The propaganda movie (but do I repeat myself?) “Reefer Madness” being a case in point, but there are millions of other examples. You tell the stupid (at least in your mind) children that smoking pot will turn you instantly into a wild murderer, and they’ll eventually learn the truth anyway. They’ll think you are the idiot here and they’ll never listen to your stupid advice again because you’re a liar. So when you say the house is on fire when it actually is on fire, you’ve lost credibility and they’ll ignore you.

  6. The problem Lyle is that your summations of “common wisdom” are not correct. Perhaps that’s your point.

    For instance, this one:
    “When loading smokeless powder, never, ever seat the bullet too deep, even if there’s a huge air space in there (38 Spl comes to mind) or it could create a pressure spike and blow your gun to smithereens.”

    That’s not really the “common wisdom”. The reality is that changes in bullet seating depth in certain cartridges, many of them higher pressure handgun cartridges, can result in pressure spikes. Changes from the seating depth for which the particular load was developed.

    And this one:
    “You should never, ever use smokeless powder in a black powder gun, because it could create a pressure spike and blow your gun to smithereens.”

    This is also not a correct summation of correct advice. First of all, don’t use smokeless powder in muzzleloading guns. Many of the barrels are not designed for the pressure curves of smokeless. Alloys and heat treats are important. Also black powder had a characteristic of not fully burning excessive powder charges reducing but not eliminating the danger of overcharging. Second, don’t use higher pressure smokeless loads in older black powder era guns like the early Colt Peacemakers, because they were built of weaker steels – again alloy and heat treat is important – before the smokeless powder era even though they can chamber cartridges that are now loaded with smokeless powder.

    There are of course a large set of reloading data properly developed and tested using low pressure loads for use of smokeless powders in traditional blackpowder cartridges like the old single shot buffalo guns. Depending on the strength of the intended gun these may just use regular smokeless powder in reduced charges or it may use a smokeless powder intended to be used in blackpowder era cartridges (like AA 5744 ). If you look at a good set of data for the .45-70 for instance, you will find three different categories of data for the roughly three different categories of guns chambered for that cartridge over the last century and a third.

  7. SPQR; I think you’re reitterating my point. Black powder guns do in fact take smokeless powder, but only if it involves a brass case. My point was that, although some of this “common wisdom” may be correct, none of it is ever explained– just “Do this” and “Don’t do that”. The assertions demand an explanation becaue they, on the surface at least, can seem contradictory. (Always seat a bullet onto the powder. Never seat a bullet too deep, etc.). You say “don’t use higher pressure smokeless loads ion black powder gun…” Well sure, but the “common wisdom” says “never use smokeless powder in black powder guns.” Those are two very different statements.

  8. I guess Lyle that, being pretty experienced in the use of muzzleloaders and in reloading pistol and rifle cartridges, that I did not see what you quoted as “common wisdom” as being such. However, I’ll grant that I’ve heard similar less-than-fully-informed statements in the firearms community.

    The nonsense that comes from gun shop commandoes has long been a pet peeve of mine.

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