Black powder and Pistol Ammo

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Black powder and Pistol Ammo

Post by pyratemime » Tue Feb 08, 2011 4:58 pm

Two thoughts crossed my mind this morning and so I thought I would throw them out there to garner some additional input.

One of the items I have seen discussed is the value of firearms that shoot a cartridge that was originally designed for black powder. This advantage manifesting in a long term situation where factory ammo and modern gun powder reloads have been expended you can make your own black powder and keep shooting. In theory anyway. So the question that I am left with will that work with derivative ammunition? For instance since the .357 Magnum is derived from the .38 Special is there any reason you can't scale up the amount of black powder in the .357 cartridge to give yourself a higher power round?

Second thought I had is related to semi-autos and black powder. Since black powder had gone the way of the niche shooter by the time semi-autos became prevalent is there a semi-auto round that is black powder safe? I do want to emphasis that this is focused on safe and not efficient. I can only imagine the cleaning nightmare that you could create shooting black powder in a modern polymer handgun but if the choice is a safe but dirty pistol round or harsh language and a sharp stick I certainly know my preference.


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Re: Black powder and Pistol Ammo

Post by PistolPete » Tue Feb 08, 2011 5:01 pm

The .357 magnum cartridge is only .125" longer than a .38 special. It was made longer because it operates at a higher pressure, and if it was the same size people could blow up their .38's.
So, it wouldn't really be any more powerful than a .38 special loaded with black powder. You could certainly do it though if you wanted a dirty, smoky load or if you were in a pinch and didn't have any smokeless powder.
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Re: Black powder and Pistol Ammo

Post by pyratemime » Tue Feb 08, 2011 5:06 pm

Understanding that the .357 is only a bare fraction longer than the .38 and the main difference is power is not volume but type of powder used I am left curious as to what the difference in volume can be for .38 and .357. Meaning that if .38 is only loaded half full (and I have no idea if that is true I am just using it to illustrate my question) of black powder would it be safe to fill the .357 entirely full?
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Re: Black powder and Pistol Ammo

Post by Dooms » Tue Feb 08, 2011 8:26 pm

My question about the whole blackpowder thing is....where do you get the primers? I mean, if you can get your hands on both primers and blackpowder, you can probably get your hands on primers and smokeless powder. If you can only get powder, than you pretty much become limited to flint-lock or match lock style arms. If you can't get either, then you're going to end up needing to make your own black powder from saltpeter, sulfur, and charcoal.....not exactly an easy process (not to mention the safety concerns).

If anything, I think I'd rather have a bow and/or a big bore airgun. While not exactly an easy task, I could definitely see myself making my own arrows long before I start producing my own blackpowder, especially since I would have no clue where to get naturally occurring sulfur from in my area. Along the same lines, with a big bore airgun, a hand pump, and a bullet mold....you could probably keep it shooting for years. The only thing you might need to replace are the seals.

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Re: Black powder and Pistol Ammo

Post by budthachud » Tue Feb 08, 2011 9:56 pm

I read an article where John Taffin was loading .45 ACP rounds with black powder. I don't remember the type, but with compressed loads, he was still only able to achieve ~450 fps out of a 1911. None of his loads were able to cycle the action, even with a reduced power recoil spring. Most (all?) autoloader cartridges don't have the necessary case capacity to generate any kind off decent power.
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Re: Black powder and Pistol Ammo

Post by Rednex » Tue Feb 08, 2011 10:01 pm

I might be mistaken ( probably am) , but isn't blak powder a slow burning powder? The longer the case the more powder is burned = faster bullet?
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Re: Black powder and Pistol Ammo

Post by TacAir » Tue Feb 08, 2011 10:21 pm

(rubbing head with puzzled look on face)

How would you have modern primers and only black powder?

Maybe one of these might be a better choice
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Re: Black powder and Pistol Ammo

Post by Dooms » Tue Feb 08, 2011 10:25 pm

Rednex wrote:I might be mistaken ( probably am) , but isn't blak powder a slow burning powder? The longer the case the more powder is burned = faster bullet?
Black powder is typically a really fast burning powder. If you have a pile of it and light it with a match it flashes up nearly instantly. Smokeless powder, on the other hand, tends to burn slower and more controlled. However, smokeless powder is more energy dense than black powder, which is why you need more of it to achieve similar results.

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Re: Black powder and Pistol Ammo

Post by Rednex » Tue Feb 08, 2011 10:31 pm

Thanks Dooms.

I remember way back when i was shopping for a muzzle loader the guy at a gub store said something about a a longer barrle is over all better then a short barrle . Give it more time for the powed to burn or something of that sort. He was just trying to sell a noob a gun .
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Re: Black powder and Pistol Ammo

Post by Dooms » Tue Feb 08, 2011 10:52 pm

Rednex wrote:Thanks Dooms.

I remember way back when i was shopping for a muzzle loader the guy at a gub store said something about a a longer barrle is over all better then a short barrle . Give it more time for the powed to burn or something of that sort. He was just trying to sell a noob a gun .
Well, with a smooth bore muzzle loader a longer barrel typically is better, as it gives the projectile more time to stabilize itself. Even with a rifled barrel, a longer barrel can make for a more accurate firearm. As far as whether or not it actually increases velocity, it depends on the characteristics of the load. Typically a longer barrel will lead to an increase in velocity, but often it's only to a certain point. If you make the barrel too long it may start to decrease velocity.

Typical .45 acp loads, for example, tends to reach their maximum velocity around 16 inches. Having a barrel longer than that will decrease velocity rather than increase it. I'm not sure about muzzle loaders, but if I had to guess they probably don't typically need ridiculously long barrels to reach maximum velocity. They more than likely need it for accuracy and bullet stabilization.

The other upside to a longer barrel with a black powder firearm is that it gets the majority of smoke (and sparks/flash) as far away from you as possible.

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Re: Black powder and Pistol Ammo

Post by KentsOkay » Tue Feb 08, 2011 11:40 pm

Dooms wrote:While not exactly an easy task, I could definitely see myself making my own arrows long before I start producing my own blackpowder, especially since I would have no clue where to get naturally occurring sulfur from in my area.
I've made scratch black powder, twas horrible. Needed more grinding. But it would work great for putting arrows and shooting at Deadites.
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Re: Black powder and Pistol Ammo

Post by roscoe » Wed Feb 09, 2011 4:36 pm

As others have said, without primers you are stuck. I bought a Tap-O-Cap and looked into making my own primer material, like the old time fulminate of mercury, but it turns out it the chemicals are not so easy to find, and distinctly unhealthy to work with without appropriate preventatives, like a lab with a hood. It is cheaper just to stock ammo or reloading components, or to ream a .357 so it can shoot 9mm, .357, .38, and .38 super (so you might be able to scrounge ammo).

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Re: Black powder and Pistol Ammo

Post by GP11 » Fri Feb 11, 2011 8:27 pm

pyratemime wrote:Understanding that the .357 is only a bare fraction longer than the .38 and the main difference is power is not volume but type of powder used I am left curious as to what the difference in volume can be for .38 and .357. Meaning that if .38 is only loaded half full (and I have no idea if that is true I am just using it to illustrate my question) of black powder would it be safe to fill the .357 entirely full?
You get less energy per volume of black powder as compared to smokeless. The reason .38spl is such a long case is that it was originally a BP round, and all that case volume was necessary to get sufficient velocity. You're not going to gain very much loading .357 mag with black powder as compared to .38.

The .38 case can actually handle a lot more powder than it is loaded with. It is not done because all the .38 Special guns out there couldn't handle it, but increasing the powder charge of the .38 is how the .357mag was developed. Elmer Keith overloaded the .38 case and developed a round known as the .38-44 HV, so called because it was used in rechambered .44 special guns (which could take the pressure). The case was extended for safety reasons, to make it impossible to load in .38-only guns.

Some handloaders still load .38-44 HV-type loads for lever rifles, since the case can take it and the reduced OAL allows you to load one more round in the tube.
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Re: Black powder and Pistol Ammo

Post by Grey dog » Fri Feb 11, 2011 10:35 pm

I believe the factories developed the 38-44 round, though Keith did work on higher powered loads in 38 spl and 44 spl. The factories decided on the longer case idea, tho the longer case does reduce pressure to a degree with it's larger volume. I don't know if it's posible to achieve the early factory 357 magnum velocities safely in 38 spl cases. The early factory loads were very hot, more so than Keiths 38 spl loads, or the factory 38-44 loads. Keith descirbes this in his book "Sixguns".

As to autos with black powder, there's at least one vid on youtube that has a 45 auto shooting black powder succesfully. I don't recall how many rounds they fired without issue, I think it was close to a box. (edit, found the vid, it was 100 rds without problems) Primers without powder? Sure, why not. There's tons of guys that have more primers than powder. No telling when you may come into primers. Making powder is dangerous. I guess if it was a choice of no powder at all it may be worthwile to someone, but smokeless is very cheap to use compared to black for comparable load levels when buying it, and if someone was truly concerned about running out, enough to last a very very long time could be bought relatively inexpensively, primers also. Msoy pistol rounds get roughly about 1000 charges per pound of powder (7000 gr in a lb, at 7 grs charge=1000 loads. For a 3.5 gr charge=2000 loads per lb). A couple or so 8 lb cans of powder would likely last a lifetime of carefull use. I'd much rather use smokeless powder if I had a choice, it's much nicer to work with than black. Much cheaper than buying loaded factory ammo. Components last a lifetime or more when stored properly.

Some primers are also interchangable, at least as far as size. I've used small rifle primers to load 38 spl when I didnt have any small pistol primers. Some rifle primers may be hard to ignite in some handguns, and pistol primers wouldnt be suitalbe for high pressure loads in a rifle, but you can make bang noises. I did see a post somewhere where a guy contacted CCI and asked about the difference in small pistol magnum and small rifle standard primers, the tech looked at the data sheets, and suddenly realized they had the same dimensions, same cup thickness, and same charge. Their large primers had a dimensional difference of .001" in thickness (tallness). Don't recall the charge and cup thickness thickness comparison. Black powder cartridge shooters have long used pistol primers for rifle loads, as black doesnt develop the same pressure levels as smokeless.

Pistol powders can be used for low velocity rifle loads, and are commonly used by cast bullet shooters. Some rifle powders can be used in some handgun cases, but they are generally way too slow burning to work very well, tho some are useful as rifle loads in pistol calibers. Many shotgun powders are used in pistol loads. Shot could be melted down to cast rifle or pistol bulets. Perhaps one of the better uses for shot. :D

For field expedient ammo, you can also break down other caliber rounds to salvage primers and powder. A good loading manual and some common sense would allow you to extrapolate a safe, if not maximun loads for rifles or pistols. Pull bullets, weigh powder charges, carefully remove primers or reform th primed case for your chamber/caliber, load a slightly reduced charge from tour deducing what was loaded in the original case, and use a cast bullet or jacketed bullet from whatever source you have. Jacketed bullets can be melted down (core melted out, jackets tossed) and cast into bullets, tho they are going to be soft, meaning they will likely lead foul if you push them too fast. Theyd probably be functional for pistol bullets if the loads arent too hot. Some people whine about removing live primers, but if you do it carefully, it's not a big deal. Primers are not nuclear. They go bang when you happen to set them off, but nothing much happens other than annoying others living in the same house, just ask anyone that just starting out reloading and using a Lee loader hand tool. Wearing glasses is suggested for best results.

regardless of how it burns unconfined, black powder is considered a relatively slow buring powder. Yes, a longer barrel makes more velocity with black. The old Pennsylvania and Kentucky rifles could develop up to 2000 fps or so with maximum loads and round balls. They had up to about 40" barrels. It doesnt have as much energy as smokeless, but its stilll considered a slow buring powder. Grain size has some bearing on velocity achieved, but also has some bearing on how much fouling it produces. Some powders are "hotter" than others. Swiss is generally reported to be faster than other powders of similar grain size.

I've never felt black powder was hard to clean up. I've used it in a couple different cartridge guns. Hoppes number 9 solvent works, but plain hot water works best, then dry and oil. No big deal. Cases are washed out in hot water and dried. They get dark and ugly looking, but they work just fine.

Youtube vid of 45 auto with black powder loads.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJDpXiW4Xs8" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
Last edited by Grey dog on Fri Feb 11, 2011 11:01 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Black powder and Pistol Ammo

Post by SeerSavant » Fri Feb 11, 2011 10:59 pm

If I get this right, the OP want's a gun that can shoot both smokeless and black powder.

This, to me, means revolver. If your good at reloading, I guess you can use black powder or run lower loads with mixed or 'found' powder, collected from other types of ammo and loaded into the cartridge.

However, if your talking about making your own black powder, get a percussion pistol, use a drop in conversion cylinder, and that way you can switch back an forth as you will with a minimum fuss.

Having shot black powder 440 balls out of a colt 1860 clone, I can tell you that despite the huge noise and instant fog, they can be pretty damn accurate.

Personally, if it got to the point where I seriously considered crushing up my own black powder, then I'd start practicing with a bow.

It can be done, but I'd simply stick with cowboy guns, colt, remington, etc. They were relatively easy to reload and cast bullets, and the lower pressures meant you were less likely to screw it up that badly.

And lets face it, black powder is just too much fun to not play with...
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Re: Black powder and Pistol Ammo

Post by Fire » Sat Feb 12, 2011 8:48 pm

for both, I like and lust after to be quite frank, a ruger blackhawk convertible, in .357/9mm- gives you a whole world of scrounging and the possibility of rolling your own- note that with modern cylinder gaps they will foul quick, and that stainless would be best if they make that weapon in stainless still- beyond that, for old west action to the extreme, go for a blackpowder revolver in stainless with a conversion cylinder for modern metallic cartridge use- though that does limit it to black powder power levels for safety.... mercury fulminate that is needed for primers is nasty stuff, and not as easy to get the stuff for, but it does give more options....that and a tap o cap might do you well if you do the research...
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