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  1. #1
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    Default Black Powder Ballistics

    I have been shooting black powder revolvers for some time now; I recently bought a chronometer and an accurate scale and decided to do some tests. I compiled my own velocity data and did my own energy calculations. I wanted to share for two reasons. First in case there is some error in my method, people can correct me. Second, just to share the data.

    The formula I am using to calculate energy is the one that came with the Chronometer book:
    Velocity X Velocity X bullet weight in grains / 450240 = Energy in Ft/lbs

    My goal was to compare my Remington .36 cal to my Remington .44 and see how the bullet weight vs velocity variations work out. The .36 had a 6.5 inch barrel while the .44 had a 5.5 inch barrel. Each group listed below is an average of 6 shots. I disqualified any readings that seemed unreasonably high or low. Testing was done under field conditions, not lab conditions, so powder measures may be off by a full grain either way.


    Gun..................Pyrodex FFFG (vol).......Bullet weight......... Average Speed............Calculated Energy
    .36 Remington.........28 grains.................80 grains.375 ball.....1015........................183 ft/lbs
    .36 Rem..6.5 inch.....32 grains.................80 grains...............1275......................... 288 ft/lbs
    .36 Rem................32 grains.................80 grains................1200........................ .255 ft/lbs (retested)
    .36 Rem ...............35 grains.................80 grains................1250........................ .277 ft/lbs (35 gr max capacity)


    .44 Rem ..5.5 inch.....28 grains .............138 gr .451 ball.........550..........................92 ft/lbs
    .44 Rem.................32 grain...............138 gr .451 ball..........700.........................150 ft/lbs
    .44 Rem................. 32 grain..............140 gr .454 ball..........850..........................224 ft/lbs (.454 ball has tighter seal)
    .44 Rem..................35 grain...............138 gr .451 ball.........875..........................234 ft/lbs
    .44 Rem..................35 grain...............140 gr .454 ball.........945...........................277 ft/lbs
    .44 Rem..................35 grain...............143 gr .457 ball.........960...........................292 ft/lbs (.457 ball has tighter seal)
    .44 Rem...................37 grain..............138 gr .451 ball.........950...........................276 ft/lbs
    .44 Rem...................37 grain..............143 gr .457 ball..........960..........................292 ft/lbs
    .44 Rem....................42 grain.............143 gr .457 ball.........1019..........................329 ft/lbs
    .44 Rem....................46 grain.............143 gr .457 ball.........1050..........................350 ft/lbs
    max capacity for the .44 is 50 grains but was not tested.

    It became clear very quickly that for the .36 the highest energy resulted from stuffing the chamber to the max 32 grains. 35 grains represents an over-stuffing and compressing of the powder, which yielded diminishing returns. I only had one size .36 ball (.375) and it was a very tight fit that shaved a ring off the ball as it was seated.

    .44 on the other hand required a fair degree of experimentation. Two things seem clear. First, big .44 chambers like to be filled with powder, otherwise there is little benefit over a .36. If you want to save on powder... just get a .36. The second lesson learned was that it is very important to have a very tight seal. I had been using .451 balls which I was able to seat with less effort. The testing shows a significant energy change between .451 and .454. Some Revolvers, have slight differently sized chambers and a .451 may be tight enough. The important thing is that you have a tight seal that allows the pressure to build up behind the ball before it starts to move. The tight seal will be evidenced by a ring of lead being shaved off when you seat the ball and significant resistance when seating.

    The energy of these black powder revolvers is quite impressive. It is also worth noting that the original pistols sold by Colt and Remington did not have any instructions as far as how much grain to load into them. It is probably fair to say that soldiers and cowboys loaded them up to the max.

    I did some similar tests with modern pistols and got the following results.

    .38 special snub .... 158 grain MFG.................................750 ft/s...........198 ft/lbs
    .38 special 6".........158 grain MFG.................................800 ft/s.............226 ft/lbs
    .357 6"..............125 gr Reloaded near max with Unique.....1250ft/s............433 ft/lbs
    9mm Glock 19.......115 gr...Winchester white box...............1150 ft/s..........337 ft/lbs
    9mm Glock 19 .......115 gr Reloaded to max with Unique.......1190 ft/s..........361 ft/lbs (max= never exceed load)
    Last edited by tsafa; December 20th, 2010 at 04:35 PM.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Black Powder Ballistics

    Nice post!

    On the original 44cal designs powder charges:
    the Colt Walker was 60gr
    the Colt Dragoon was 50grs.
    the Colt 1851(steel) and 1860 were 30grs
    the Remington 1858(steel) was I think 40-50grs. 40gr being recommended

    The brass Confederate framed guns like the 1851 were max of 20-25grs for the 44cal. Late production Pietta brass frame 1851 is recommended at 15grs for the 44cal.

    The reason why sometimes the powder charge wasn't shown was because the powder flask spigot came with the gun and pre-sized for the correct volume-metric charge.

    I couldn't tell ya what the .36cal charges were. Never got into them.

    Just noticed something.. You weighed your powders with a scale.. ....Black powder is to be weighed by volume. 30grs of weight measurement is NOT 30grs of volume-metric measurement, which is proper for blackpowder.
    Last edited by knight0334; December 20th, 2010 at 11:56 AM.
    RIP: SFN, 1861, twoeggsup, Lambo, jamesjo, JayBell, 32 Magnum, Pro2A, mrwildroot, dregan, Frenchy.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Black Powder Ballistics

    The Pyrodex grains are by volume. I used a powder measure. The scale was used to weight the ball. The smokeless ammunition I posted at the bottom was done by weight.

    I plan on doing some more tests over the next month. I have quite a few Black Powder guns to test.

    Still to come:
    1847 .44 Walker
    1851 .44 colt with 7" barrel
    1858 .44 Remington with 8" barrel
    1858 .31 Remington pocket pistol
    .50 Thompson Flintlock rifle
    .45 caplock rifle.

    I have been wanting to do these tests for over a year, but only recently acquired the equipment to do them.
    Last edited by tsafa; December 20th, 2010 at 12:17 PM.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Black Powder Ballistics

    Coolness! I'm looking forward to more reports.

    I've always had a fondness for cap & ball revolvers.
    RIP: SFN, 1861, twoeggsup, Lambo, jamesjo, JayBell, 32 Magnum, Pro2A, mrwildroot, dregan, Frenchy.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Black Powder Ballistics

    Very nice. Thank you for your work.
    Pete
    “Auto racing, bull fighting, and mountain climbing are the only real sports ... all others are games.”Hemingway ...

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Black Powder Ballistics

    Nice to see this kind of data. I was curious myself. I had my 1858 44 Buffalo (12" barrel) out yesterday to play. You gotta love that sulfur smell.

    I'm sure you already have the "magic" load for each firearm you shoot, but have you played around yet comparing the pyrodex to Black Powder, or wonder wads to corn meal filler? I wonder how much difference there would be in speeds?

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Black Powder Ballistics

    Quote Originally Posted by DeadHead View Post
    Nice to see this kind of data. I was curious myself. I had my 1858 44 Buffalo (12" barrel) out yesterday to play. You gotta love that sulfur smell.

    I'm sure you already have the "magic" load for each firearm you shoot, but have you played around yet comparing the pyrodex to Black Powder, or wonder wads to corn meal filler? I wonder how much difference there would be in speeds?

    I have not done any tests with real Black Powder yet, but I sure plan too. I have been shooting muzzle-loaders for a while, but it near impossible to tell what the "magic load" is. That is only possible now that that I have the chronometer and good scale to measure ball weights. Before, my only way to test was to look for penetration into layers of plywood, but that information was too hard to effectively measure and report. You would naturally think that the more powder that you pack into a chamber, the more energy you will get... but it is possible that the powder may not have enough time to burn before the ball exits the barrel. Only with a measured velocity test can we know if we are getting a meaningful return of additional powder added. The tighter fitting ball certainly seems to add to help the equation.

    This study will probably take a month or two to complete. I plan to put up a webpage and publish the results. I was searching for this type of detail for a long time but the information is not available... so now I am going to make it available. I am glad that people here are interested in my study and report.
    Last edited by tsafa; December 20th, 2010 at 09:07 PM.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Black Powder Ballistics

    I got a chance to do some more testing. I tested out my .44 Walker (Uberti) and my .31 cal 1858 (Pieta).


    gun........................powder FFFG...................bullet................speed .....................Calculated Energy
    .44 walker 9"barrel...50 gr pyrodex............143 gr.457 ball............1040 ft/s avg................343 ft/lbs
    .44 walker 9"...........60 gr pyrodex............143 gr .457 ball...........1117 ft/s avg ...............396 ft/lbs
    .44 walker 9"...........66 gr pyrodex............143 gr .457 ball..........1238 ft/s avg.................486 ft/lbs (max capacity)


    It is significant to note that the .457 ball was not oversized and did not shave off a ring when seated for a very tight fit. My overall testing has shown that a tight fit is a very significant factor that greatly increases velocity. I have ordered a mold to make 200 grain Conical bullets. I am hoping that those will have tighter fit.

    .31 pocket 1858......15 gr pyrodex..........47.5 gr .315 ball............433 ft/s avg..................36 ft/lbs
    .31 pocket 1858.......15 gr pyrodex.........52 gr .323 ball................770 ft/s avg................. 68 ft/lbs

    The testing of the .31 pocket pistol emphasizes the importance of a tight fit. The .315 ball is seated very easily with almost no effort (no shaving). The .323 ball on the other hand takes great effort and is infact quite painful on the hand as the short lever of the pocket pistol provides very little leverage. The .323 shaved off a nice ring and paid back with increased velocity for the added effort.

    For comparison sake, this is the result achieved with my NNA mini revolver loaded with .22 mag

    NNA mini...........CCI maxi-mag.............40 grain HP....................950 ft/s....................80 ft/lbs
    NNA mini...........Winchester Dynapoint....45 grain HP....................820 ft/s....................67 ft/lbs
    Last edited by tsafa; January 4th, 2011 at 02:02 PM.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Black Powder Ballistics

    tsafa,
    Many thanks for your data and your willingness to share it with the rest of us. I currently shoot black powder in the 22 WCF(rifle) , 25-20 (rifle), 38 Special, (pistol and rifle) 44-40 (rifle) and 45 colt (rifle and pistol).

    Although I have used Pyrodex and found it to be quite useful, most all of my b.p. shooting is done with Goex, Schuetzen or Swiss. I have found that Swiss works the best in the repeating rifles and will continue to shoot accurately for many more shots than either Goex or Schuetzen before accuracy deteriorates.

    In the revolvers with their shorter barrels, the difference is negligible.

    All of the cartridges that I shoot with the exception of the 38 Special and 45 Colt, both in a rifle, have had cataloged ballistics. My goal has been to equal or improve upon the original ballistics of the factory loadings.

    22 W.C.F. - 45 gr bullet / 13 grs. b.p. 1,500 f.p.s.
    This is the only cartridge that I have not been able to equal the factory velocity. 13 Swiss FFFG = 1,420 f.p.s.

    25-20 - 86 gr bullet / 17 grs. b.p. 1,300 f.p.s.
    17 / Swiss FFFG = 1,349 f.p.s.

    38 Special pistol -158 gr bullet / 21.5 grs b.p. - 960 f.p.s.
    21.5 / Swiss FFFG = 967 f.p.s. pistol / 1,255 f.p.s. 24" barrel

    44-40 - 200 gr. bullet / 40 grs. b.p. - 1,301 f.p.s.
    40 / Swiss FFG = 1,330 f.p.s.

    45 Colt pistol - 250 gr bullet / 40 grs. b.p. - 910 f.p.s.
    40 / Swiss FFG = 922 f.p.s. / 1,218 f.p.s. 24" barrel

    Sincerely,
    w30wcf

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Black Powder Ballistics

    Quote Originally Posted by w30wcf View Post
    tsafa,

    38 Special pistol -158 gr bullet / 21.5 grs b.p. - 960 f.p.s.

    45 Colt pistol - 250 gr bullet / 40 grs. b.p. - 910 f.p.s.
    Thanks for you feedback and data W30wcf. I was particularly interested in your data from 38 Spl and .45 Colt. I calculate energies of 323 ft/lbs and 460 ft/lbs respectively. What model guns were you shooting?

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