The Lure of the Holy Black

The first pistols I owned were replicas of Colt’s percussion revolvers, an 5-1/2″ ASM Navy Sherrif’s Model, and a Navy Arms 1860 Army .44. I loved the look and feel of those guns, and more than a few Coyotes met their ends because of them. I graduated to one of Colt’s ‘re-issue’ Pocket Navy .36s, one of the most beautifully made guns I have owned.

As an aside, the 1860 inspired me to have a T-shirt made. It read, in old-timey script, “Life Insurance by The Colonel” over a drawing of the 1860 Army, and in smaller script beneath, “Address Colonel Samuel Colt, New York, USA.”

They were fun to shoot and surprisingly accurate… but they were painfully slow to reload, only reasonably reliable and clean-up was a pain in the butt. Following the best information I had at the time I would fully disassemble each revolver, immerse it in boiling water, then scrub with hot water and dish soap, then dry everything in a warm oven before oiling it and reassembly. Eventually I was seduced away by modern cartridge revolvers, and seldom looked back.

Around a decade ago I discovered the wonderful world of cartridge-conversion revolvers, and the Kirst gated Conversions that would let me make my own from inexpensive percussion revolvers. I started off with a Remington snubby with a .45 Colt conversion, and progressed to a Colt .45 Schofield conversion.

‘The Pug,’ a Pietta 1858 Remington-based conversion in .45 Colt
‘The Outlaw,’ based on a Pietta 1851/.44. It uses a .45 Schofield Kirst Gated Conversion

Kirst makes a hell of a good product, but they aren’t cheap and I am, so it was inevitable that I would eventually start doing my own conversions. I started by boring through percussion cylinders and making breech-plates for them. In a six-shot percussion cylinder there simply isn’t room for a .45 caliber cartridge (percussion .44s have a .451″ bore, but conventional .45-caliber cases are close to .475 in diameter) which is why the Kirsts are 5-shooters. A bored-through percussion cylinder takes a .44 caliber casing with a .451 heel-base bullet, like the original .44 Colt. In other words the bullet and case are the same diameter.

I made some dies to swage 200gr LFP bullets into a heel-base bullet and bought a special crimping die and set to work developing loads, with limited success using smokeless powders. The best results were with Trail Boss, but it was still somewhat inconsistent, and not entirely satisfactory.

I also did a Colt Walker conversion, shortening the barrel and boring through the cylinder. While there is more than ample room in the cylinder for a .45-caliber cartridge I decided to go a different route… I shortened and expanded some British .303 cartridges and loaded them with my 200gr heel-base bullets- it is, in effect, a ‘stretched’ .44 Colt. With a wonking great charge of Trail Boss behind it, it worked well enough. Since the case will comfortably hold 55gr. of Black Powder I called the resulting cartridge .44-55 Walker.

.44-55 Walker
This is Thumper, my Walker cartridge conversion

Eventually I bought a cop-and-ball revolver to convert to fire cartridges, and it came with a flask of FFFg black powder. Just for fun I loaded a .44 Colt cartridge with it. I’ll make a note here- BP is dead easy to reload in cartridges designed for it. Since you cannot have air gaps in the chamber when dealing with BP, cases are designed to hold the correct amount of powder. Simply fill the case almost to the rim and you’ve got the right load. Stuff a bullet on top, crimp it and you are good to go. I also loaded a few .44-55’s with it. I took the guns off to the range and, with some trepidation, touched off a few rounds.

Wow. It was a transformational experience; the guns barked with authority and set a massive cloud of smoke downrange. Finally my .44 Colts were acting as they should. The .44-55 Walker was even better- it actually recoiled like it meant business, though it’s still not at all uncomfortable. Since my latest .44 Colt conversion also has a percussion cylinder I loaded that up and tried it. The same grin-inducing boom-and-buck.

Remington ‘Brasser’ conversion, with cylinders for .44 Colt and percussion. cased with ammunition and reloading supplies for the percussion cylinder.

I don’t think I am going to get back into cap-and-ball revolvers at this point in time- but FFFg is my powder of choice for these two cartridges from here on out. I’m even planning on doing a rolling-block carbine in .44-55 Walker to complement ‘Thumper’ (The converted Walker revolver.)

Yes, clean-up takes a bit more effort, but my standard cleaning regimen works just fine- some Hoppe’s #9 followed by a bit of CLP and the gun is good to go. The guns do need to be cleaned immediately after coming back from the range; black-powder residue is hydrophilic and rapidly attracts moisture, so you want it out of your gun as quickly as you can conveniently manage.

I have a number of antiques that fire black-powder cartridges like .450 Adams, but having developed satisfactory smokeless loads for these guns I am a little reluctant to expose them to the mess.

So, the Holy Black is back in my life- for limited uses at least!

Michael Tinker Pearce, 26 April 2019

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Philadelphia Deringer Build- Part 1

Recently I’ve been becoming re-acquainted with Black powder, loading .44 Colt and .44-55 walker cartridges with it. It’s a bit more work to clean the gun after firing, but honestly? It’s not that bad. These cartridges just work better with black powder; hardly surprising as that’s what they were designed for. This has been helped along by the fact that the new air evac/cleaning system at my local indoor range deals with the smoke quite effectively.

This got me thinking about building a muzzle-loading pistol. I’ve never done it before and I do relish a challenge. Since it is not legally a firearm by either Federal or State law it could even be a smoothbore. I have reamers for .251, .357, .375, .451 and .475 so there were options available for the caliber. But what to make?

The obvious answer was ‘something small’ as none of the reamers are long enough to do much more than four inches. A derringer perhaps? I tossed around a number of ideas, but eventually settled on a Philadelphia Derringer.

Typical percussion derringer, mid-19th C,

Around the middle of the 19th C. a Philadelphia gunsmith named Henry Deringer made a name for himself by producing small, large-caliber single-shot percussion pistol. Small being a relative term, of course. These .45-caliber weapons were designed to carry in an overcoat pocket, and they became popular enough that soon others were copying them, with the general type of weapon being referred to at first as a Philadelphia Deringer, and later shortened to simply calling any small pistol with one or two barrels a ‘Derringer.’ I’m not sure where the extra ‘r’ came from, but it was well established by the end of the Civil war.

I’ve never made a side-hammer lock before, but they aren’t rocket science. I’ll need to employ a number of techniques I’ve never used before, but that’s where the fun comes into it (…as well as the swearing, hair pulling and throwing things across the shop.)

The idea of boring a smoothbore is appealing; relatively easy to do, and working with a somewhat oversized block of steel would leave a lot of options. Sure, accuracy would suffer, but these were never meant to be more than a point-blank weapon to begin with. But, poking around the shop I ran across several bits of barrel cut off of percussion revolvers in the course of various cartridge-conversion projects. The one from ‘Thumper,’ my Colt Walker conversion, was suitably beefy. Using the cut-off barrel section would also allow me to produce a rifled weapon, which is better in a number of respects- not the least of which is that it would not be limited to round-ball ammunition.

These barrels have a .451″ bore, and I discovered a .44-caliber hollow-base bullet fits snugly in the rifling, opening the option of using a hollow-base Minie Ball. Better and better…

Typically the barrel of a percussion pistol (or rifle for that matter) is retained in the wooden stock by a tang extending from the back of the barrel being screwed to the wood, and a wedge passed through a lug on the bottom nearer the front. Another method, which I have chosen to use, is to have a screw pass through the bottom of the fore-stock to secure the front end of the barrel.

So, forst the easy bit. I cut a tang from the barrel itself, then did a little shaping with the belt-grinder and files. Next I ran a 1/2″-13 tap into the breech end of the barrel to secure the barrel-plug. I used a high strength 1/2″-13 bolt to create the plug.

Barrel with integral hood, a 1/2″-13 high-strength machine bolt and Red (Permanent) Loctite

I cut off the bolt on the bandsaw and used the bandsaw to cut a slot of a screwdriver. I applied the Loctite and screwed the plug in as deep as it would go, using considerable pressure to insure that it was firmly in place. There is at least 3/8″ of thread engagement, so I sincerely doubt that one could pack enough black powder into the barrel to blow the plug. The Loctite has an absurdly high sheer-strength; there is literally no chance the plug could unscrew itself.

Barrel with the plug in place. The end of the barrel will be cut to length later.

After the plug is cut and filed down I’ll weld a 1/4″-20 nut to the bottom of the barrel for the screw that passes through the bottom of the fore-stock. With the barrel then ready to mount it will be time to start on the stock.

I’m hoping to use a piece of century-old pre-blight American Chestnut for the stock; it’s a lovely wood with nice color. After that it’s time to make the side-plate and action.

So, that’s a start anyway. I’ll keep you posted as the build progresses.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 18 April 2019

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Announcing my Patreon Page

Let’s face it, this hobby isn’t cheap. As a self-employed knifemaker my income is averages out decently, but it can be irregular and let’s face it- excrement occurs. When it does the first thing put on hold is ‘non-essentials,’ which includes practically everything to do with firearms, from reloading to range trips to new and interesting projects- and I’ve got a lot of those in the pipeline, including:

*A home-made single-action revolver

*A .25 Wildcat cartridge (.25 TCR) designed as a reloadable replacement for .22 and .22 Magnum

*A home-made rolling-block rifle chambered in .44-55 Walker

*Bespoke cartridge conversions in a variety of calibers, from .25 TCR to .32-20 to .45 Colt

*A chronograph to test commercial and handloaded ammunition

*Reviews of budget-minded new firearms for sporting and self-defense purposes.

*Shooting and review videos

*A double-rifle conversion

…and a lot more.

A lot of these projects require components or tools that I cannot easily afford- and this slows things down a lot. Also certain types of videos- specifically ‘how-to’ videos, cannot be monetized on Youtube. I’ve decided to let you, my readers, decide what this content is worth to you. If you are happy with things the way they are rest assured, I’m not going to stop doing this. The worst thing that happens is that nothing changes- I’ll keep right on producing the sort of content you are already enjoying at the current irregular pace. But if you find this blog interesting and value more new and original content, please consider contributing to my Patreon.

https://www.patreon.com/TinkerTalksGuns

Thanks,

Michael Tinker Pearce 16 April 2019