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Fearless
Sep 3, 2003

DRINK MORE MOXIE




Do you want a general "How it works" post for black powder firearms?

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Fearless
Sep 3, 2003

DRINK MORE MOXIE




CoffeeBooze posted:

Yes please. I purchased my first muzzle loader for Christmas and still havent had a chance to take it out yet. Ive done a lot of reading on the topic but would appreciate even more.

Sure. Any particular questions you would like to see addressed?

Fearless
Sep 3, 2003

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CoffeeBooze posted:

For me at least getting into muzzle loading has felt like learning firearms all over again. The huge variety of powders and pellets, bullet selection, etc can feel pretty overwhelming. A brief list of powders/pellets and bullets that a beginner should be aware of would be really helpful. Also a list of gear for getting started. I have the rifle with ram rod, measure and flask. Should I be picking up anything else?

Do you have a starter? BP rifles often have a slightly tapered bore, so getting a patched ball or a particularly close fitting bullet down the bore can be a challenge with just the included ram rod. BP shooting is very different from more modern expressions of the practice, so I can easily see how making sense of everything is kind of like drinking from a fire hose.

tarlibone posted:

Cap and ball revolvers? (I'm not being an rear end in a top hat. I wouldn't mind reading something about these.)

Not an SME, but I can put something basic together.

Somebody Awful posted:

Purchasing tips for P53 Enfields and Snider-Enfields? Kind of want to pick up one somewhere down the line.

These... these I know well

Fearless
Sep 3, 2003

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Cyrano4747 posted:

This is maybe a bit advanced for that thread, but I know a fair number of BP cartridge shooters who load with smokeless but light enough charges so that the pressures don't exceed BP pressure. If you've got any insights into calibrating that so you don't explode your gun that would be cool.

I'm aware of people doing this, and also running duplex (smokeless rifle and FFG black) and even triplex (smokeless rifle and pistol plus black powder) loads but this is something I've got no experience with and a shitload of reservations about doing. It's very risky for obvious reasons as black powder firearms were not designed with the pressure characteristics of smokeless powder in mind and many (read: most) cannot handle the greatly increased pressures generated.

Fearless
Sep 3, 2003

DRINK MORE MOXIE




Black Powder: Shooting Yesterday's Guns Today



Black powder was invented in China sometime in the 9th century, but it wasn't until the mid 13th century that Europeans became aware of it and it was still nearly another two centuries before black powder firearms and artillery began to appear regularly on European battlefields. Contrary to what the name suggest, black powder has resembled sand for at least the past six centuries-- it has not actually been a powder since at least the 1300s. Unlike modern powders, black powder is not a propellant but rather a low explosive and special considerations need to be taken in its use because it behaves rather differently from more modern rifle, pistol and shotgun propellants. If you were to lay out equivalent weights of, say, a modern rifle powder and black powder and then ignite the two, you would notice that the black powder flashes violently and converts to a large amount of smoke and soot almost instantaneously-- if you were dumb enough to use a lighter to ignite the BP, you very likely will have burns on your hand! The modern smokeless propellant would burn noticeably slower and far, far cleaner.

Don't just take my word for it. This video clearly demonstrates the differences in burn time between black powder, pyrodex (a modern BP substitute which will be discussed a bit more later) and modern smokeless rifle powder:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGyhsQug03o

Black powder is sorted according to the coarseness of its grain, from coarse Fg powder used mainly for artillery charges, to FFFFg powders suitable for priming main charges, or for pistols. Finer powders have, by virtue of their small grain size, a far greater surface area to facilitate deflagration at a significantly more rapid rate than the coarser powders and thus should not be used for the main charges in long arms like muskets, rifles or shotguns. In broad terms, FFg and FFFg are the granulations for long arms, though pay attention to what manufacturers recommend (where applicable) for your safety.

Historically, black powder was composed of varying mixtures of charcoal and sulpher for fuel, and potassium nitrate (saltpetre) to act as an oxidizer. These materials could be derived from a variety of sources-- the nitrates in particular could be derived from livestock urine or guano but all of them directly connect to burnt BP's distinctive egg-fart smell and immense amounts of smoke. Traditional black powder is still in production, though it can be prohibitively expensive to ship and is very much recommended for flintlock arms as these require a more sensitive powder for their crude ignition systems.

It is also hygroscopic, meaning that it readily absorbs moisture from the air and this can make it quite corrosive or prone to misfire-- alternatively, its low ignition point means it also has to be handled with some care. Other modern BP substitutes are out there and fairly closely mirror BP's behaviour while minimizing most of its more negative traits (namely the distinctive smell, sensitivity and explosive tendencies). Pyrodex and Triple 7 are examples of black powder substitute, but these tend to have a somewhat higher ignition temperature than traditional BP and are more suitable for percussion cap arms than flintlocks. Substitutes can be used in place of traditional black powder though some (Triple 7 springs to mind) need to have their charge weights adjusted as they are not 1:1 substitutions. These types of black powder are suitable for use in percussion or cartridge arms.

There are also pellet versions of these substitutes (in which the charge is composed of a few small pucks of substitute rather than powder) that are intended to be used for in-line rifles (more on those later).

Types of Black Powder Firearms

In terms of common black powder arms, some of the most common ones encountered and fired today are modern reproductions of historical flintlock and percussion arms. Both of these types of arm are named after the method of ignition used in their operation. In flintlock arms, a piece of flint is dragged down a piece of steel to generate a shower of sparks that serve to ignite a waiting portion of black powder to in turn ignite the main charge in the firing chamber. The flintlock was the most popular, reliable and easily manufactured form of firearm from the early 17th century to well into the 19th. Here's a video showing the operation of such a type of firearm:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wSbY7BRrIQg
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=insxddY6ZmE

And here is a video about the creation of an American long rifle from the Colonial period, using period techniques and tools:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qTy3uQFsirk

In percussion arms, the flint, pan and frizzen are replaced with a hammer and nipple: a priming cap containing some sort of fulminating is placed on the nipple of the arm and ignited when the hammer drops. This method of ignition became common and popular in the first half of the 19th century and is generally a lot more reliable than earlier flintlocks. Here is a video of a percussion cap arm being operated:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CNIt8RvGP5M

(If you are unfamiliar with the Britishmuzzleloaders channel on Youtube, I suggest you give it a good watch. If you were aware of it and haven't subscribed, go sit in the corner and think about your actions)

In both of these videos, one can clearly see the powder and projectile being loaded through the muzzle-- you will sometimes hear muzzle loading arms referred to as "front stuffers" as a result. You will also note that both shooters make a point of ensuring that the projectile is seated firmly against the powder during the loading process. Air pockets between projectile and powder can create very dangerous pressure spikes that can cause a barrel to bulge or violently burst-- even with the benefit of modern metallurgy.

Black powder cap and ball revolvers deserve special mention. These are commonly available, and are most readily found as replicas of the first commonly available repeating firearms. Care must also be taken when loading and shooting these: if the cylinder of a cap and ball revolver is improperly sealed at either the nipple or the mouth, it can result in multiple chambers going off at once-- potentially causing catastrophic damage to the revolver and even the person holding it. You can see a video of cap and ball revolver operation here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GV38iQwySCs

Finally, early breech loading, black powder cartridge firing arms are commonly available as well both as replicas and as antiques. Where earlier arms were manually loaded with powder and projectile directly into their firing chambers and externally primed, in this case primer, powder and projectile are all contained in a metallic cartridge for ease of loading and enhanced reliability. This type of ammunition became common in the 1860s and still enjoys an avid following today, though many of the firearms that utilize black powder cartridges must have their ammunition specially loaded by the shooter as commercially available ammunition is either prohibitively expensive, or went out of production many decades ago. Here is an example of a black powder cartridge arm in operation:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJ-f11hM4Sk

And here is a thread on the care and feeding of the Martini Henry rifle, another representative of this type: https://forums.somethingawful.com/showthread.php?threadid=3850226

Why shoot one of these things?

Black powder shooting is generally a more relaxed and sedate activity than most modern dynamic shooting sports. It also tends to be far less regulated from a legal standpoint-- in many jurisdictions anything up to and including flintlocks (even modern replicas) do not require any kind of license to own or use. Black powder firearms often enable hunters access an earlier or broader hunting season as well (depending on jurisdiction, once again). But for a lot of people, it's just fun as heck to connect with history in a more vivid way than reading about it.

What's it like to shoot one of these?

Black powder long arms tend to shove rather than kick, mostly because of how black powder works, and the sheer mass of many long arms and the massive projectiles being lobbed down range. My .75 cal Brown Bess fires a .69 cal round ball that is somewhere north of 600 grains. The 13 lb weight of the musket dampens the recoil-- in a lot of ways, it is gentler than the much lighter .50 cal flintlock rifles that I own. However, being thrown around by that kind of mass can leave you a bit stiff and sore after a full day of shooting (my Mk IV Martini Henry is a cantankerous beast and has left bruises after 40 rounds). With flintlocks, there is a great flash a few inches from your face when the lock activates-- it takes a lot of skill and practice to overcome that flinch and a noticeable lag before the main charge ignites with a boom... and when this happens, a massive cloud of grey smoke obscures the target. As the smoke clears, one can even sometimes hear the shooter giggling like preschooler on pudding day.

I want to shoot one! What do I need?

VERY IMPORTANT: Some folks have been known to use smokeless powder in firearms intended for black powder. This sort of practice is possible, but dangerous. In the case of modern reproductions, there's a reduced chance of a catastrophic failure because the metallurgy of the barrel is far better than an historical example-- but it is not eliminated. In the case of historical firearms, with less certain integrity, one is truly gambling with their safety and that of the people around them. I strongly recommend against the use of modern smokeless propellants in firearms intended for use with black powder.

You're going to need a black powder arm to begin with. There are some great starter kit options out there for both flintlock and percussion arms. Fintlock arms require flints that fit in their locks-- in some cases, these are literal chips of flint, but some modern makers (Thompson/Center in particular) build their guns around a weird proprietary not-quite-flint and don't do so well with real flints. Regardless, a patch of leather or lead sheet will enable the jaws of the flintlock (called the dog) to firmly grip the flint without shattering it when it strikes. You'll also need powder-- FFg/FFFg for rifles, muskets and shotguns and FFFFg for pistols (or their equivalents)-- and projectiles. Round balls are exactly what they sound like. Bullets are another option for some black powder arms-- generally, these are not used as frequently for flintlocks as they are for percussion guns, revolvers or cartridge arms. A measuring flask or tube of some sort is an important tool for measuring out your charges to ensure you're not over or under loading your arm. Generally, balls need to be a bit undersized for the bore they will be coming out of-- in my .75 cal Brown Bess, I run .69 cal round balls covered with the remains of a paper cartridge that allow the ball to fit snugly in the barrel. You want this extra bit of slop because of the immense amount of fouling that black powder generates. Repeated firings will result in a noticeable coating of fouling inside the barrel and this can make reloading more difficult as the fouling builds up. If you are running balls out of a flintlock rifle, some sort of patch material will be needed to engage the rifling. Thin fabric works well for this purpose, especially if it is lubricated with saliva just before loading (but for the love of Christ keep lead balls or bullets out of your mouth). Percussion arms will need percussion caps sized to fit their nipples. Black powder long guns include ram rods, but these are not the ideal tool for loading oversized balls into the muzzle of a rifle. Instead, consider getting a starter to get the ball seated in the muzzle, then driven down the bore the first few inches so that the ram rod can take care of things the rest of the way. It can also be very helpful to have a worm screw and ball puller that can attach to your ram rod-- these will allow you to remove patches or balls stuck in the barrel (there are two kinds of black powder shooters: those who have put a ball down a barrel without powder, and those who have yet to).

As mentioned earlier: black powder, black powder substitutes and their residues are all hygroscopic-- they attract moisture from the air and hold it next to metal. This means that BP fouling is a significant cause of rust and so BP firearms must be cleaned after every range day to ensure that they do not rust up. For cleaning there are a whole host of weird and wonderful cleaning compounds out there, but I've done just fine with appropriately sized brushes, brass wool a ram rod, paper towel patches, oil, dish soap and hot water. My cleaning routine is pretty simple: wipe down the external surfaces to remove any residues, dismount the barrel, run a brush down a few times to loosen up the fouling and then flush with hot water and soap until the water runs from the vent or nipple clear as opposed to black. If your bore is large enough and you brew beer, one of those faucet mounted beer bottle cleaners works beautifully too! Regardless, the next step needs to be to dry the barrel or any other metal parts that got wet and then lightly oil the surfaces. Let this set for a few minutes, then wipe off any excess before returning the musket or rifle to its rightful spot over the fireplace.

It can feel like getting started in traditional shooting is akin to drinking from a firehose, but it's what I got into first after I wanted to move up from air rifles. Do your research, and always ask for advice or help if you are unsure of something-- the community as a whole tends to be pretty friendly (if a bit eccentric).

I want to shoot cap and ball revolvers!

Most of what was posted above holds true here, but with one important addition. It is absolutely imperative that you maintain a tight seal over the ends of a cylinder of a cap and ball revolver. Thus, you must ensure that the percussion caps you are using properly fit the nipples of the revolver, and that they are properly seated, and that the mouths of the firing chambers are all properly sealed-- very slightly oversized bullets that are swaged when rammed into the chamber are an option, as is using a dollop of shortening to seal the mouths against sparks.

I want to buy a Snider Enfield/Martini Henry/Trapdoor Springfield/Swiss Vetterli and shoot it!

If you are really interested in shooting one of these, take some time to learn the fundamentals of reloading-- you're going to need to know how to do that if you want to economically shoot truly obsolete ammunition from obsolete guns. Once you have a good handle on that skill, it is quite easy to get many old black powder cartridge guns shooting again but this process does involve quite a bit of research and sometimes delving into some truly obscure references. Some, like certain types of Vetterli or Francotte Martinis, should never be shot and it's important to know what you have before you try to shoot it.

A Caveat

This post is intended to be a basic introduction to BP shooting-- it is not authoritative in any way and I am sure that things will be added as other enthusiasts chime in with their knowledge or I remember something important to share.

Fearless fucked around with this message at 05:29 on Apr 22, 2020

Fearless
Sep 3, 2003

DRINK MORE MOXIE




Smegma Princess X posted:

I'm bringing this here from the Stim Check thread.

I've never had to own and care for a gun before, the last gun I really ever used was my dad's M1 carbine, over 20 years ago hunting beaver. I want a rifle, but I'm looking for something that is not as "point-and-shoot" as the AR that Joe Wannabe-Fash down the street would buy to feel like a big man. The only requirements are that the gun, ammunition, and accessories would need to fit within my $1200 pittance that I got as an American victim of capitalism.

Also yes I would consider dressing my gun up like Milsurp Barbie.

Friend, not all ARs need to look like you're trying to cosplay CoD!



I've been able to use this particular rifle for target shooting by switching out optics. In the photo it is carrying a red dot sight without magnification, but it's also featured a 1-4x magnification scope and a bipod if necessary.

Fearless
Sep 3, 2003

DRINK MORE MOXIE




prophet45 posted:

Hey.
I just bought a well over hundred years old Krag. It's almost entirely original, though the barrel might have been changed at some point. The seller doesn't know when it was last fired (which is fairly common for these guns, a lot of them just show up on grandpa's old things) but it looks to be in great shape.

What should I do before taking it to the range to test it? I assume I should stick to light loads, but do I need to have a professional have a look at it first?

I bought the gun mostly for historical reasons, but I really want to use it for having fun with some manual action ipsc, and for some general loving about, so only stuff that doesn't require the heavier loads that would be needed for hunting and such.

I would also direct you to this thread: https://forums.somethingawful.com/showthread.php?threadid=3909624&userid=0&perpage=40&pagenumber=1

In which other goons with similar interests in historical firearms share their love of the same (and pictures too).

Fearless
Sep 3, 2003

DRINK MORE MOXIE




eonwe posted:

Probably not. I was just erring on the side of caution. I'll at least be taking some kind of gun safety course.

This and some basic coaching on marksmanship are an excellent foundation for firearms ownership.

Fearless
Sep 3, 2003

DRINK MORE MOXIE




eonwe posted:

thanks folks, I appreciate the advice!

You're welcome, and you are welcome here too!

Fearless
Sep 3, 2003

DRINK MORE MOXIE




You can, in fact, over oil firearms. Excess oil traps unburnt powder and carbon and creates a nasty lapping paste that can cause premature wear on moving parts. Beyond this, heavy oiling just isn't necessary for most civilian-legal firearms as they're not operating at the high cyclic rates of machine guns to the point that the oil has to be present for lubrication.

Beyond this, oil can seep into wood and break it down over time. I've got more than a couple of rifles that were over-oiled, leading to screws pulling freely out of their sockets and other parts wrenching free under recoil load.

E: I have also taken to using moly grease on certain firearms lately as well and will agree that it does wonders.

Fearless
Sep 3, 2003

DRINK MORE MOXIE




I've had a Martini Henry get scorching hot after a couple of dozen rounds during a shoot, and experienced something similar with a Brown Bess. I recently had my SMLE out for some range time, and let me tell you I was grateful for that full stock, though the rear sight block was very hot to the touch. The wood enclosures tend to moderate the mirage that can come from an exposed and hot barrel.

Fearless
Sep 3, 2003

DRINK MORE MOXIE




Long term, if you want to shoot a large bore centerfire rifle like a Garand (or most other western military surplus arms) you might want to look into the practice of reloading your own ammunition. Being able to do so can help reduce costs (or shoot more for the same amount of money), allow you to really tailor your ammunition to your rifle and also allows one to even start shooting firearms so obsolete that commercial ammo hasn't been available since before the Great War. There are threads for both Military Surplus and Reloading in this very forum too!

Fearless fucked around with this message at 00:21 on Apr 15, 2021

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Fearless
Sep 3, 2003

DRINK MORE MOXIE




Queen Victorian posted:

Reloading sounds really cool! I didn't really know you could do that, but I get why you'd want to do that for uncommon/expensive/obsolete ammo. Also now I'm thinking about the scene in Jumanji when Van Pelt goes into the gun shop for more ammo and is informed that they stopped manufacturing that type in like 1903.

Fun fact: when I was little I'd collect the pretty brass shells to use as golden tankards at the banquets I'd set up for my toy animals. Also the banquet hall was made out of bones.

To give you an idea of what reloading opens the door to: I regularly shoot an 1864 Snider Enfield and an 1887 Martini Henry, both long obsolete British service rifles. Large scale ammo production for both ceased by the beginning of the Second World War. The most commonly available commercial ammo is sold in antique auctions and costs at least $10-15 per round. Given its age, it is also prone to misfires (it won't go off) and hangfires (it goes off... eventually) Ammo for the Martini Henry can be had from a couple of very select reloading services, but it is not any cheaper. With my reloading gear, I am able to cast new projectiles from lead, create new brass cartridges for both rifles and recharge them for re-use-- usually at a cost per round of $0.75.

.45 Colt is available here in Canada, but at least $50 a box. I can reload those 50 rounds for something like $10 in components, and even less if I am using cast lead projectiles. The trade off is that reloading can be fairly dirty and time consuming.

But on the other hand, creating bespoke ammo for your favourite rifle that really helps it achieve its best accuracy is tremendously rewarding. And there is nothing like taking a long obsolete rifle and getting it talking once more for the first time in decades. With small arms that old, you really get the sense that you're not the owner but rather just the most recent caretaker.

All of this is a pretty deep rabbit hole to run down. Focusing on the basics of marksmanship and safety as you get started really is the main thing.

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