When I began using percussion revolvers, my methodology was faith-based. Put in black powder, lever the bullet in, and add percussion caps. It worked great, until Mike Price used the same methodology and wound up with a multiple discharge. Three chambers went off at once, and the scar on the cylinder pin convinced me of two things: I didn’t want a multiple discharge, and I needed more knowledge. I read George Nonte’s Home Guide to Muzzle Loaders with all the fervence of the newly converted. The recommendations were either good or I was lucky – I have never experienced a multiple discharge. One thing about my faith-based pistol shooting is that Nonte’s book was published in 1974, and he died in 1978. That event kept him from advancing his knowledge – Home Guide to Muzzle-loaders is permanently limited to what George Nonte knew in 1974. I didn’t get any update.
Still, the knowledge and science of percussion revolvers has advanced since then – an intriguing thought since they have been obsolete for a century and a half. John Fuhring hypothesized, “The most important reason why black powder revolvers chain fire is – believe it or not – because powder grains get caught between the slug and the chamber wall, get crushed into an extremely fine powder and form a “powder train” between the bullet and the chamber wall. This powder train resists all efforts to eliminate its effects and not even glomming on a ton of Crisco has any effect on it. If the train is there, you will have a chain fire.” A simple explanation, good face validity, and freedom from Crisco makes for a lot less high pressure grease movement. After nearly a half century, I’m moving from faith-based percussion revolver shooting to science-based. Fuhring’s best advice was using a cut-down high power rifle empty as a funnel to avoid that “powder train.” That’s an option that wasn’t available in Civil War days.
Nor were the black powder substitutes. Black powder ignites somewhere around 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Pyrodex is about 600 degrees. There are some other characteristics of black powder that influence things, but changing to the modern substitute has face validity. Instead of Crisco, I use over-sized soft lead bullets with greased felt wads between the bullet and the powder – and the powder will be going in as Fuhring suggested, with a cut-down 30-06 cartridge used as a funnel to drop all the powder deep into the cylinder.
I think I’m a little safer – but I still recall the cylinder pin on my friend’s revolver. There is something to be said for finding better methods of using a tool that became obsolete while Custer was still on active duty – but I can’t prove my habits are actually safer.