Author Topic: advice for a black powder newbie  (Read 2150 times)

Offline womule

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advice for a black powder newbie
« on: May 28, 2017, 11:13:41 PM »
I don't own a muzzleloader and I've never used one.  I became interested in muzzleloader rifles when I started thinking about melting lead wheel weights to cast bullets.

this seems like a great survival opportunity, but I don't know alot about the subject so I need the ask the pros a few questions.

1. would wheel weights be a great source for making my own ammunition?

2. how difficult is storing black powder?

3. what are the dangers (exploding obviously ) to storing black powder?

4. how long can you store BP?

5. what are some affordable entry level BP rifles that aren't junk.  I've noticed muzzleloaders seem to be expensive, thought they would be less expensive.

6. any other things a newb like me should know

Offline Carl

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Re: advice for a black powder newbie
« Reply #1 on: May 29, 2017, 06:13:24 AM »
I can say,as black powder is 20 years in my past,that it is fun and dirty and can be an interesting hobby.

1 Wheel weights are a good metal when paper or cloth patches are used, I used scrap plumbing pipe and wheel weights.

2. Water/moisture,sunlight,static and to some extent storage time ...are your enemy...I have used some 'real' FFFG ,fine grained,black powder that was over 8 years old. BUT in many states,I can speak for mine,you are limited to ONE POUND in residential storage and many stores do the same ,with only one pound on the shelf as the stuff is not like smokeless powder ...it is explosive without the containment of a cartridge and chamber.

I suggest,if your concern is the future,that you think of how even 100 plus year old cartridges still fire well...that you look into loading,or just learning to SEAL cartridges with lacquer and store from heat,moisture,light and temperature variance in a proper storage area. I use surplus ammo and find that properly stored cartridges will outlast you as even my 45 ACP practice ammo has mostly 1942 and 1945 head stamps as most military cartridges were lacquer sealed back then...this is what I credit with longevity and viability of the shells.

My preferred BP weapons were RUGER 44 pistols,CVA or Thompson Center 36 44,and 50 cal rifles,though most any with a rifled barrel will do fine.
I also note the 38 special projectiles work great in 36 caliber black powder weapons, the 148 wadcutter and hollow base wad cutter were favorites.
« Last Edit: May 29, 2017, 06:25:42 AM by Carl »
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Offline iam4liberty

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Re: advice for a black powder newbie
« Reply #2 on: May 29, 2017, 10:28:51 AM »
To add to what Carl said:

4. how long can you store BP?

Black powder has become a general term which can mean two things, original black powder and black powder substitutes (e.g. pyrodex).  Original black powder can store for very long periods of time.  Archeologists have dug up black powder firearms hundreds of years old and the powder loaded in them still worked.  Black powder substitutes on the other hand are much more likely to go bad especially if not stored in a temperature controlled environment.  Also, many of the substitutes are hygroscopic and if not stored in absolute water tight containers will absorb moisture from the air.

2. how difficult is storing black powder?
3. what are the dangers (exploding obviously ) to storing black powder?

Original black powder is an explosive which lights much more easily than the substitutes.  So it is potentially much more dangerous.  Black powder should never be stored in a metal container (otherwise known as a really big grenade).   It should be stored in either a properly designed wood (best) or cardboard (o.k.) box.  If you are just starting out, the best thing to do is when you go to buy your first "can" of black powder (which now will be waterproof plastic) is ask the retailer if they still have the cardboard box it came in (usually holds 25-1 lb containers and has the flammable/explosive stickers on it).

5. what are some affordable entry level BP rifles that aren't junk.  I've noticed muzzleloaders seem to be expensive, thought they would be less expensive.

There are many great BP rifles.  They fall under three general classes: production rifles, production kits (which you put together), and custom rifles.  Custom rifles can go into the many thousands of dollars.  They are as much fine works of art as they are functional firearms.  You are looking for rifles for survival purposes so you are looking at production rifles or kits.  Just starting out a pre-built rifle would probably be best so you can learn how it operates before trying to figure out how to put one together.  You then have to decide on what type of rifle you want.  There are two primary types:

Traditional.  These are flintlock or percussion cap ignition rifles of the designs used from the 1700s through the 1880s (when cartridge guns almost completely took over).  These rifles use iron sights (either fixed or adjustable) and long barrels (32 inches+).  The long barrels were very important in their day for economy purposes.  They allow less powder to be used to achieve the same bullet velocity than a shorter barrel.  With a traditional rifle you will generally be using a patched ball as a projectile (though other options exist).  The sweet spot is typically 40 to 45 caliber which again saves on powder but has very good knockdown.  Some larger game however, can benefit from a larger caliber in the 50 to 54 range.

Modern.  These are rifles that were designed to take advantage of the muzzleloading hunting seasons that were originally set up for the traditional rifles.  Their form is more like a modern rifle allowing the use of scopes, modern triggers, and safeties.  And their barrels are shorter making them less efficient on powder use but handier to carry.  To ignite the generally larger powder charges they tend to use more powerful primers, specifically 209 shotgun primers.  They also 'break down' for much easier cleaning.   While they will shoot a 45 to 50 caliber bullet but aren't nearly as efficient as the traditional.  Where they really shine is in the use of modern, copper jacketed projectiles.

Regarding costs, for traditional rifles the used market is where the action is.  They tend to not be abused as the more modern rifles are.  I recently bought at our annual club auction an unused Thompson New Englander 50 caliber in box with 200 bullets, 300 percussion caps, a can of pyrodex, a package of pre-cut patches, and a tube of wonder lube for $125.

For modern rifles there is a stronger case for buying new.  They tend to be abused and oddly (given their easier cleaning capability) tend not to be cared for.  You will often find them shot after a hunting season and not cleaned which is a big no-no.  The best time to buy a modern rifle is towards the end of the muzzleloading season when the big box stores drastically reduce them.  Walmart in particular seems to want to clear out inventory and it isn't unusual to see 50%+ markdowns.

All this said, personally I believe that the underhammer percussion rifle is the very best survival BP firearm.  The underhammer was the last generation of traditional muzzleloaders created before cartridge rifles took over the market.  Historically they are hugely important as they were the product which made interchangeable parts manufacture a reality.  They use very few parts so are easy to keep operational.  They have faster ignition and are less likely to have the hammer snagged by a branch, etc.   And since the ignition takes place under the barrel, they are more pleasant to shoot and are less apt to cause bad habits like flinching because the ignition takes place under the line of sight.  Alas, the last mass produced version was done by Numrich Arms and discontinued a couple decades ago.



You asked about 'rifles' but there is also a strong prepper case to be made for smoothbores because of the flexibility of loads (ball, shot, buck & ball, etc).  But I didn't go there because you asked specifically about rifles.

If you tell us what your intended purpose is, we could make a better recommendation of traditional vs. modern and which brands/models to look for.
« Last Edit: May 29, 2017, 10:35:28 AM by iam4liberty »

Offline Carl

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Re: advice for a black powder newbie
« Reply #3 on: May 29, 2017, 10:46:58 AM »
Liberty...Karma for great post.
Stop complaining about life and start Celebrating it .

I've reached the age where there is little left to learn the hard way.

If you had only one year,one month,or one day...Would you live your life differently?

Offline armymars

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Re: advice for a black powder newbie
« Reply #4 on: May 29, 2017, 04:34:09 PM »
You asked about wheel weights for lead. The old rule of thumb was " if you can cut it with your thumb nail you can shoot it " . This was patch and ball.

Offline Knecht

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Re: advice for a black powder newbie
« Reply #5 on: June 07, 2017, 03:19:46 PM »
I've noticed that lately wheel weights are made of some different alloy, as they seem to be brighter and much more brittle than the old ones. Maybe it's just here in CZ, I don't know.
I also like to use old lead pipes that I get cheaply at junkyard.

As for choosing the type, iam4liberty has summed the basics nicely in his post. I would add one thing that I find important for long term self-relianbce situations: choose wisely between systems that ruhn just on powder (matchlock, wheellock, snaplock, flintlock...generally everything spark/ember ignited) and those that use primer (caplock, W209 rimer for modern in-lines etc.). While making your own black powder is not that big deal (and I mean at home, from resources that you may find in civilization, not talking about making it somwhere in the woods), making functional, reliable primers can be quite a challenge. Yes, one can argue that you can easily stock thousands of primers, they are cheap and tiny. Just saying that this may be an important point for some.
I'm actually quite a fan of wheel lock. Rumors say that it's so complicated and unreliable and bla bla.... not true. A well made wheel lock is about as reliable as flint lock. Just very slightly more complicated and about the same number of parts (mainly springs) that can break. It also doesn't require too carefully knapped flint to operate, at least if you don't mind changing the flints often (for hunting that's not a big deal). Wheel lock seems to be the most "calm" lock mechanically and thus makes the gun more accurate, as your aim is not distracted ba the hit of a caplock hammer of flintlock cock. No wonder why luxurious hunting and target guns still had wheellocks long after flintlock became generally the king. Some seem to believe that you have to wind the lock as if you were winding an old mechanical toy or watch and that it takes time. Wrong, the lock only takes 3/4 of a turn. This will compress the mainspring and that's it, you can't add any more turns to it (I've actually read a "historical" novel whose author clearly believed you can do that, to add reliability of the ignition)
That being said, I also enjoy all other types, including flintlock, caplock (love my SxS 12ga coach shotgun!) and in-line. Just thought I'll try to defent the poor wheel lock, which seems to be target of undeserved criticism among the BP crowd.

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Offline Smurf Hunter

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Re: advice for a black powder newbie
« Reply #6 on: June 07, 2017, 10:40:15 PM »
While I think BP could be a really interesting hobby, if your goal is mainly to secure an ammunition supply chain post-collapse, you can probably do as well with modern cartridges.  I can hand load brass cased cartridges that will outlive my life expectancy if I sealed them up and stored appropriately.

Regarding lead, because it's messy, not very healthy, I have not yet bothered to smelt scrap lead.  On eBay I can order cast ingots for $1.50-2/lbs. shipped.  That's a lot more expensive than "free" from the scrap pile, but I usually get to know the alloy and hardness.  You can do the math for your weight bullet (1lbs = 7000grains) and estimate the cost per bullet.

My long term stash of powders and primers are stored (in separate) old ice chests.  I've no idea how long they'll last.

Offline 9mmMaster

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Re: advice for a black powder newbie
« Reply #7 on: June 07, 2017, 11:17:50 PM »
Advice
Measure twice
Blow up never hopefully

Meaning measure your charge and be sure

Offline iam4liberty

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Re: advice for a black powder newbie
« Reply #8 on: July 09, 2017, 07:50:19 PM »
I'm actually quite a fan of wheel lock. Rumors say that it's so complicated and unreliable and bla bla.... not true. A well made wheel lock is about as reliable as flint lock. Just very slightly more complicated and about the same number of parts (mainly springs) that can break. It also doesn't require too carefully knapped flint to operate, at least if you don't mind changing the flints often (for hunting that's not a big deal). Wheel lock seems to be the most "calm" lock mechanically and thus makes the gun more accurate, as your aim is not distracted ba the hit of a caplock hammer of flintlock cock. No wonder why luxurious hunting and target guns still had wheellocks long after flintlock became generally the king.

That is cool.  Do you use pyrite with your wheellock?  The reason I ask is that locally flintlock useful flint is hard to find naturally.  We have a version of chert called "hornstone".  It is highly desirable for making arrowheads but generally poor for using with flintlocks.  On the other hand, we are relatively rich in iron pyrite.  So a wheellock would be more practical here.

This said, I am a big fan of the percussion cap.  It is easy and cheap to make percussion caps.  And Percussion caps can be used on both rifles and revolvers.  There is a lot of synergy between a 45 caliber cap lock and a revolver using the same raw materials.

While I think BP could be a really interesting hobby, if your goal is mainly to secure an ammunition supply chain post-collapse, you can probably do as well with modern cartridges.  I can hand load brass cased cartridges that will outlive my life expectancy if I sealed them up and stored appropriately.

From a self-defense perspective, absolutely.  But there is a pretty strong case for hunting in good times and bad.  One reason the 40 to 45 caliber patched round ball muzzleloader was historically so popular was that it could be loaded for a wide variety of game.  35 grains of fffg and it could be used for squirrel, rabbit, and turkey.  70 grains and it could be used for everything up to deer.  A similar dynamic is playing out with 50 caliber modern rifles; 70 grains ffg behind 180 grain conical for rabbit to hog, 90 grains behind 380 grain one for deer, elk, and bear.  It is hard to replicate this range of use in cartridge firearms as the powder volume of the cartridge is more or less set. 

This flexibility plus the significant increase in hunting seasons makes it very attractive as a primary hunting rifle during good times too.  There is also the cost perspective with some BP rifles sub $200 during off season sales delivered to one's door.

Offline Knecht

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Re: advice for a black powder newbie
« Reply #9 on: July 16, 2017, 03:52:27 PM »
I did use both pyrite and flint with my wheellocks. Found out my carbine works better with flint and pistol works better with pyrite, guess it has to do with the hardness/speed of the wheel.
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Offline flyfisher66048

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Re: advice for a black powder newbie
« Reply #10 on: September 04, 2017, 05:24:01 PM »
One hint - the order you load stuff is important. ;D

The first time out to zero my first muzzle loader, I only got two shots fired before i pulled a dumb dumb.  Don't get distracted