Interesting Demo Of Different Power In Black Powder Pistol

I found this interesting. The test is to load different amounts of Pyrodex (simulant for Black Powder) into a black powder revolver and run it through a chronograph. Yeah, I know, what’s the big whoop about changing the powder level changing the power… But, I was surprised at the range. 25 grains gave about the same power from a .44 as the wimpiest modern rounds – .25 ACP / .22 rimfire. At the top end, it was about the same as a .357 magnum standard pressure round (though it was needing a slightly compressed powder charge).

So I can load up this one gun with power levels appropriate for squirrels or hogs? Hmmm….

At 5 minutes 24 seconds he has an error in the numbers he puts on the screen. For 30 grains of Pyrodex he has the right average velocity but the Ft-Lbs ought to be more like 259 ( I think he just carried down the 9 from the velocity and didn’t notice…). All the other numbers look about right to me.

9 minutes.

My speculation would be that the velocities available in a .36 ball BP revolver would be about the same for similar cylinder fullness, so one ought to be able to make decent estimates of their power range just via a mass:mass ratio adjustment on the lead ball weights.

As I’m leaning toward .36, that’s a bit of math I’ll be doing after just one more cup of coffee ;-) That the .44 is just at the power level, fully charged, that’s generally considered “just enough” for stopping hogs and black bears has me thinking maybe .44 is the better choice (and not worry about the need to buy a second bullet mould).

Somehow it had not occurred to me that you could calibrate load / velocity in Black Powder guns and have a variable power loading. I think it is because the powder flasks are always talked about as delivering a consistent charge, coupled with thinking the lever to compress it was likely to have a best stop point. In other words: Having never done it, I was assuming in error…

So, OK, I really like the idea of making up some paper cartridges in various power levels and just drop in what you want. Probably just 2. A 25 grain “plink & squirrels” and 40 grain “big banga boom” ;-)

Next, another video by the same guy where he compares Pyrodex vs “Real Black Powder” Goex. The Pyrodex gives faster bullets, while smelling like a “dirty fireplace” (or maybe it was BBQ) while the Goex smells “like the 4th of July”. Pyrodex must be cleaned quickly due to acidic products while Goex is harder to clean but not urgent.

I’d not thought about the actual aesthetics of the shots, but realize that I want that 4th of July experience ;-)

Also of interest is that he cites one of the gun makers as only recommending the 25 grain charge for brass frame revolvers and larger charges only in steel frame. Yet brass has a tensile strength similar to mild steel ( 66 k PSI IIRC though with wide ranges depending on exact materials). Since they know what materials they used that’s worth note.

So added to the check list is construction material and maker recommendations of max loads.

He has some chronograph issues from using wads under the bullet in this round (chronograph reading both bullet and wad…) but gets enough numbers for a reasonable result.

14 minutes

That Pyrodex has a “must clean today” or it starts to abuse the finish on the gun argues for real black powder in an Emergency Supply as consistent cleaning is more likely to be an issue then. It also would argue for a period-IN-correct stainless steel gun. Those are pricey. Ruger made one (and hopefully still does) but I’m not sure about the Italian makers.

So it is looking a little less like I’m going to run right out and get one. Still more details to work out. Perhaps I’ll do the “2 Stage” method with a “Rapid Prototype” of a .36 cheap copy gun, get some experience, then know what I really want in the top end stainless camp…

Or maybe I’ll just go make that 2nd cup of coffee ;-)

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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20 Responses to Interesting Demo Of Different Power In Black Powder Pistol

  1. corev says:

    The Pyrodex cleaning issue is valid. I’ve ruined 2 rifle barrels by leaving the charge in them or not cleaning immediately after use.

  2. Steven Fraser says:

    @EM: I liked the ‘5th Element’ reference! Interesting article, even though I have never fired a black powder arm.

  3. H.R. says:

    Years ago, when I was single digit aged, dad bought a Marietta Arms Navy Colt .44 replica. He built a lovely Black Walnut fitted case for the gun, the powder flask, percussion cap feeder, and bullet mold.

    Three boys and a girl in the family and we all loved shooting that gun. He set the flask to discharge a kid-manageable load of powder and taught us all how to load it (lot’s of shooting safety lessons with all guns). [Oh, just came back to add this: depending on our age and ability, he would let us load one cylinder at a time until we showed we could be responsible for properly loading and shooting all cylinders. There is a risk of firing off an additional cylinder if you are careless with the black powder.]

    The roar and cloud of smoke was just a joy to us kids. It’s a heavy gun and we two-handed it, but with the light load and the heavy barrel, there wasn’t much kick, so we had a lot of really good shots on target. It gave us a lot of confidence and allowed us to concentrate on technique.

    My oldest brother wound up with that gun. He’s not interested much in guns, but he likes the old-school tech, figures he should have at least one gun around, and he was close to dad. So the whole kit is a great way for him to remember dad.

  4. E.M.Smith says:


    You inspired me to look up the MSDS…

    Click to access Pyrodex%20SDS%20Sheet-2013.pdf

    Looks like black powder with potasium perchlorate added!

    Not liking the idea of perchlorates on iron!

  5. E.M.Smith says:

    @Steven Fraser: Glad someone noticed :-)

    I’ve always got some visual / auditory link sparking off on thoughts. I think it’s that synesthesia thing…

    @H.R.: Nice story!

  6. Larry Ledwick says:

    Real BP is getting hard to find over the counter but you are right I much prefer it. I have never used pyrodex for that specific reason.

    That said black powder also can corrode the gun if the fouling is left too long in a moist environment.
    It has been ages since I fired my .58 hawken rifle but have all the stuff to use it if I want to.

    You can also taylor the load in other ways. When we were doing the black powder matches one of the contests was a “post cut” where you have a team of 4 or 5 who stand in single file (timed event) and on the fire signal the first shooter fires at the 4×4 post about 6 inches above the ground, rolls to the right and goes to the end of the line, next shooter steps forward and aims for the same point the last shooter fired. etc . The guy at the back of the line is loading as the line advances. First team to cut the post in half wins.

    The trick to the event tactically is to double ball the loads and when it is nearly cut in too, the shooter loads a hot double ball load and shoots to the top of the post to break it off.

    So don’t forget you can double ball the loads too.

    My normal load for a .58 cal mini ball was about 110 grains of BP, but for practice I would cut it back to about 90 grains and shoot round ball to save both powder and lead.

    A super sonic 475 grain bullet will stop anything on the continent if you put it in the right place.

  7. George says:

    I’ve had much fun with Trail Boss powder reduced loads. While I enjoy the published 45 ACP , the 308 bolt action is my preferred workhorse…so I alternate between a Canadian Hilti cartridge adapter firing .308 muzzleballs and .22 cal sabots from a Scout rifle. A welcome relief to throwing all those expensive Sierra boattails downrange…..

    Would like to see more safe powder options than we have now. Especially subsonic powders.

  8. Ed Forbes says:

    I like the snub nose Army. The vid gives a nice primer on BP shooting also

  9. Terry Jackson says:

    You can vary the powder load in modern center fire calibers and achieve the same result. Also, there a lot more powders to choose from, and a lot less corrosion issues.

  10. wyoskeptic says:

    Back when I was a young pup and not long out of high school, I purchased a reproduction 1858 Remington New Army cap and ball pistol with all the accessories. It is the brass frame version with the full 8 inch octagon barrel. I didn’t use the walnut grips that came with it, making my own out of western red cedar. (From what was the heart wood of a probable 100 year old cedar fence post.)

    On my first occasion at shooting it, the day was nice and still. After touching off all six chambers, the only way to see where the target was located was by moving well to one side. That cloud of smoke was dense. Reloading was not that tough, but it took a bit of time. After shooting off the fourth or fifth reload, the cylinder was so packed with residue that it was almost impossible to turn it. The quick and easy pull pin holding the cylinder in place was not quick and easy. It took a pair of vice grips to get it dislodged.

    What I found was that you needed a bucket of water handy if you were doing extensive shooting. Drop the weapon into the water and let it soak before removing the cylinder and doing an comprehensive clean before continuing. Or else do a quick washout and rub down after two or three full six shot rounds before reloading again. Granted the quality of the black powder I was using was not the best, but it was of a formula pretty close to the “old days.”

    These days I have found it not easy to get black powder for it and even finding the percussion caps is no easy trick. But it is a very interesting piece to play around with. And it gives a small taste of what the battlefields circa the (un)civil war must have been like. On a still day, with a lot of people shooting, it would have been a real wonder if anyone could actually see who they were shooting at.

  11. Larry Ledwick says:

    That is supposed to be part of the source of the term “fog of war” you could be standing 50 feet from the opposing side and not be able to see them after the first couple volleys of fire.

    Also one of the reasons the casualty rates for massed troops at such close range were relatively light (and the fact the troops were mostly not trained to aim at a specific target but to point in a general direction and fire.

    That is why the British were seriously miffed at the Americans, with their rifles as they actually aimed at the officers and NCOs (very poor sportsmanship in the eyes of the British)

    The black powder pistol (revolver) in the Civil war was basically a last ditch weapon for the officer or cavalry troop, expected to be fired only one or maybe 2 cylinders before the action was decided or they switched to swords.

  12. wyoskeptic says:

    Larry, you got it right for sure. The fouling issue and slow re-loading is why a lot of the troop carried two or three revolvers if they could get them. Most of the cavalry troops, the common soldiers, were not all that great with sabers. They were lucky if they didn’t cut down their own mounts, let a lone an enemy rider. But dismounted, with rifles especially, look out.

  13. E.M.Smith says:

    While wasting my day watching black powder videos…

    Stumbled on one where a guy uses “80%” receiver and a Harbor Freight mini mill to make his own gun in the kitchen….

    Sort of a Ghost Gunner $1200 cnc mill meets lower budget requirements :-)

    I like the comment about not letting Chucky Schumer know or he will outlaw Harbor Freight :-)

    Somehow I find this curiously attractive. Going back to the Smith roots and sculpting in metal…

  14. Larry Ledwick says:

    That is one of the things the Leftists do not really comprehend, guns are really very simple technology. You don’t even need a milling machine to finish and 80% frame.

    In a pinch a patient careful man could do all that with hand tools, although much more difficult to get the fit and finish it can be done.

    When I was taking my machinist apprenticeship we had to make things with only a micrometer, some hand files and some aluminum oxide sand paper and stones.

    You would have to build jigs to suit your tools and methods but power machines are not necessary.

    The only thing gun confiscation would accomplish is create a booming market in home made guns and back yard gun shops.

    People would be making barrels out of old car axles and that sort of thing.

  15. E.M.Smith says:

    Golly, my copy was something like $12 a few decades ago. Now $45 at amazon…

    Has a huge number of simple DIY firearms folks have made over the years. Zip guns in prisons for example.

    There’s also a few guys on Youtube demonstrating their creations. If you have pipe, a welder ( welding rod and car battery will do) and a grinder / files you can do most of it. Pliers and wrenches help… one is a slam fire 12 gauge thats trivial and cool.

    Oh, and never forget the STEN Gun was designed so any bicycle shop or muffler shop could make a machine gun.

    The only reason I’ve not made my own gun (yet…) is that it is a lot cheaper to buy a better one… Take that away and I’m in the roll your own camp.

    The basic tech us about 1700s and the fancy versions about 1900. Not hard to obtain…

  16. E.M.Smith says:

    Hmmmm Amazon has a bunch of DIY gun making books. From the also looked at list….

    “Homebuilt Firearms” is a great initiation for hobbyists who wish to try building a real gun from scratch, using only standard garage tools, NOT milling machines or lathes. Such a project is definitely a great learning and skill building experience for a person who enjoys gun sports and shooting– and unusual, challenging projects. Starting with a used .22 barrel from a gun show, and adding some scrap Steel, a hobby builder can utilize his ingenuity and skills… using a drill press, grinders, wire welder, a hacksaw, files, etc. and can indeed build a firearm, first a repeater Single Action model, then a Double Action weapon. The rifle project described here is a functional ten shot .22 rifle. It offers a fun and rewarding building experience for any mechanically minded individual, an achievement to be enjoyed and used.

    I think a shotgun would be even easier…

  17. Larry Ledwick says:

    What is really funny is there are government documents that tell you how to make improvised weapons.

  18. E.M.Smith says:

    What I find funny is the notion that censorship will stop knowledge or communication; and that banning sale bans access (smuggling, DIY, alternatives,…)

    You would think folks would learn from Prohibition and underground railroad and “number radio stations”, and….

  19. Larry Ledwick says:

    Yes Democrats / Progressives do not have very good imagination when it comes to anticipating logical expected out comes of that sort of thing. They come up with a rule and just expect all the sheep to follow it. It never crosses their mind that folks would try to side step the rule, in spite of the fact that they make a career about bending every rule or regulation in the book that gets in the way of their intended out come.

    I am not sure if it is a product of arrogance (those dummies are not smart enough to get around this rule) or just a psychological blind spot.

    Or they know full well it will be worked around and depend on that as a new excuse to crack down harder.

  20. wyoskeptic says:

    The grandfather of a friend of mine had an old single barrel break open 12 ga. shotgun. It was made by an old codger who was an itinerant blacksmith who went around to all the various ranches and other places to fix whatever needed fixing. Simply put, if it was metal and broke, he could fix it. And he was a real character. The old codger always wore a pair of bib overalls. That was it, no shirt and no shoes, just the bibs. When it got cold enough he would put on a pair of long johns under the bibs and a pair of 3 buckle overshoes, still without shoes.

    The shot gun looked something like a Purdey, but without any frills. There was nothing fancy about it, but it did not look crudely made. The old man used a hand crank drill press to bore out the barrel and made all the fittings at his forge. No power tools, just files, a foot driven grinder wheel and lots of elbow grease. The shoulder stock and fore-stock was cut from an old broken oak railroad tie. My friend’s grandfather had it made during the depression when money was dear and that old blacksmith only took about a month or so to do it.

    I shot it several times at the owner’s insistence and I have to say that even after being forty or more years old (back then) and well used, it was nice and tight and solid. It broke open easily, the trigger pull was firm with no slack and the hammer was smooth to pull back. And it was amazingly accurate, even for skeet shooting.

    Anyone who thinks banning any guns will stop them from being made is dreaming.

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