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Old 09-04-2017, 11:46 AM
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Default New Model 3 Blackpowder to Smokeless conversion ?

So much difference of opinions on this subject that I'd like to reach out to others with this dilemma.

I just did the "google" thing and the Youtube "thing" ... where ANYONE can post ANYTHING, you have to add a modicum of common sense.

Shooting one of my New Model 3, 44R Targets yesterday with standard Black Powder loads (sulfur smell all the way) was a joy but NO fun swabbing out after 20 rounds and cleaning after 100 were spent.

You can actually feel the grit from the burnt black powder starting to work in as you shoot.

I will NOT ... repeat .... NOT, EVER, put water on my New Model 3s to "wash" them, so instead a liberal amount of WD 40 brush, swab, clean cylinder and barrel. After cleaned a light coat of Corrosion-X, wrapped in a new piece of corrosion resistant paper then back in climate controlled storage.

Tom Blair, RIP, a member of the S&WCA had gifted me his spare set of .44R and .45 S&W dies about 20 years ago. He always professed, a wax lubed 240 grain cast lead bullet and 3.0 grains ( I have to reaffirm this load data) of bullseye was his preferred load.

I have a 8" New Model 3 Target that was Tom Blair's (original ship date 1904) from about 1940s. Tom had shot this one regularly and it is not marred nor worse from his use. It still maintains 95%+ original blue and is mechanically excellent with a very tight clasp as if new and HITS paper exactly where you point it.

There are so many varied opinions on head pressure, excessive dangers etc. but we are way beyond the time at the turn of the century and a few decades after where loaders / shooters mistook the black powder load data for the smokeless powder conversion.

Most significant concern IS head pressure, I feel. Once the frame on a New Model 3 or the clasp get "stretched" the accuracy (and value) drops off drastically.

I have boxes of .44 S&W (Russian) (appx 1920-1930) ammo, factory packs in smokeless, as do I have a 1930-ish box of Rem-UMC in .45 S&W Schofield (smokeless).

My question is, if there are factory packs in smokeless, why are most so negative about using a very light, smokeless powder round with these old New Model 3s.

In the older .32 S&W and .38 S&W revolvers designed for black powder, the conversion to smokeless seemed not to be such a fuss.

What's your opinion of a safe smokeless load in the New Model 3s ?
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Old 09-04-2017, 02:03 PM
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Here goes a long answer to a quick question. Over the years I have shot hundreds to thousands of rounds of smokeless loads in my Model 3 Americans, Russians, and 44 DAs. I still shoot a 44 DA Frontier in 44-40 with smokeless. Early in my shooting of these old revolver, I used BP and quickly found that the residue goes everywhere, including under the stocks, inside the mechanism, in the ejector system, not to mention all over the surface of the gun. BP residue is only soluble in water, so you must clean with soap and water if you want to remove all traces. You cannot easily clean the interior of the gun, so mechanism remains contaminated with sulfur and salts. I researched everything I could find before switching to smokeless and have not looked back.

Loading smokeless in old BP calibers required the use of a chronograph to assure me that I am in the velocity range under original BP loads. I have always loaded smokeless in these old guns to around 600-650 fps and never, repeat never, had a problem with the guns. When reloading, I start with Clays powder, which has been shown to have almost an identical pressure curve as BP from extensive testing on old Damascus double barrel shotguns. Original factory loads for 44 American ran around 700-750 fps, so loading to 600+ fps represents almost 20% reduction, which gives me all the confidence I need to assure myself that I am shooting a low pressure load. I also load 44 Russian, using 200 grain LRN instead of the original 250 grain bullets found in original 44 Russian cartridges.

Is there a direct correlation between velocity and pressure, in my mind the answer is yes, BUT physical testing in short barrel revolvers has never been published. SASS has brought to life many antique revolvers made by Colt, S&W, and some others with no recorded dangers or disasters encountered on the range with smokeless powders that I can find. My feeling is if there were problems, SASS would prohibit the use of vintage guns.

For 44 Russian, I currently use a bullet that is 20% lighter than original and around 2.5 grains of Clays, which is 20% slower than original loads. I design all my 44 cartridge reloads to run around 600-650 fps and it still hits what I aim at, with no ill effects to the gun.

The biggest caveat is that these guns are very old and most have seen whatever indignities could have been bestowed on a firearm, so they can and will break over time. Parts are tough if not impossible to find and most will require a machinist and lots of money to recreate.

Low steel strengths have been the biggest reason stated by many in why you should not shoot smokeless in antique guns. I read that the frame will stretch, the latching system will fail, pressure curve is not the same in smokeless as in BP, pressures will spike much higher in a revolver shooting smokeless, steel will lose strength over time, and many more precautions. I ran a quick check of loading Clays in 44 Russian and see that the lowest charge that Hodgdons shows is 3.2 for a 200 grain bullet yielding 747 fps and 8,000 CUP. Comparisons of CUP to PSI has been done, and it was reported that pressures under 10,000 CUP are similar to their PSI equivalent.

Steel was introduced around 1850 and by 1879, ultimate strengths of mild steel was about 60,000 psi and allowable strength was about 14,000 psi. Compare that to the 1900 allowable strength of 16,000 psi, or only a 10% improvement at the start of the smokeless powder era. Bottom line is I like my chances.
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Old 09-16-2017, 01:44 AM
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You must first establish a baseline for your particular antique revolver. This baseline includes "slugging" the bore of the firearm in question. The mandatory reason for this is due to the black powder or antique era being a "non standardized" era where each manufacturing firm manufactured their own variation of any given caliber at that time.
Before you even attempt a smokeless recipe for your "Antique" firearm you must match the bullet to bore. Don't just assume any given mold will cast a bullet that matches your antique bore. This is an advanced stage of shooting and must be very carefully performed. Only "pure" lead bullets and mild loads after you have the gun checked for cracks and flaws of which there can be many. I've seen many hairline cracks in antique cylinders and on top breaks you can find hairline cracks on the barrel at the thin area just above the barrel breech. This area is under the most stress with discharge and is also directly exposed to the high temperature powder flash from discharge at the barrel to cylinder gap.
Changes in bullet size. Even soft lead bullets "will" increase pressure dramatically using smokeless loads. Especially if the bullets don't match your specific revolver. I've seen and mic'd variances in bore dynamics (groove diameter) in black powder era revolvers, specifically in .41 calibers by as much as .029 from the same caliber! That's a .41 caliber that mic's at .381 caliber. Scary stuff. The industry got away with this buy using black powder only. Use smokeless in one of these grossly undersized bores and you will burst the gun. Never knowing why cuz you never mic'd the bore!
Changes in bullet size by only .002 can increase performance by as much as 15% with just black powder use. I've proven this at the range with a chronograph and in the 44/40 caliber using 200 grain pure lead bullets of the same design. One being a .427 bullet and the other being a .429 bullet matching the .44 special and .44 Mag caliber bore dynamics. So the antique era is a specialized era and requires that you do your homework. No smokeless era shortcuts....You know, like getting in line at the gunshow and just buying a one size fits all box of bullets. Can't be done safely with antiques. They are from a different era all together. The smokeless era introduced the era of Standardized measurement that we were born into.
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Old 09-16-2017, 06:54 AM
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Wow guys this is an interesting thread thanks model3S&W for starting and the responses wow you guys are really putting on a class on BP to smokeless conversion loads .i have only been reloading for 10 years so I am new but this is an exact question I have been thinking about lately . Thanks for the education it gives us some things to think on and especially thanks for posting load data as it gives a good place to start and thanks for the lesson on bore characteristics and safety on antique firearms .glowe I have gotten so much good information from you posts I am nick naming you professor glowe lol thanks.
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Old 09-16-2017, 07:55 AM
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Sal, I think and I am only a "novice" in the area of reloading but my take on the issues of the black powder to smokeless era is that some folks loaded their old black powder cases with an equivalent amount of smokeless powder when it became readily available. As I believe that I understand this dilemma, smokeless powder being smaller grained, allowed more powder to be placed in the same space as the former black powder charge. With black powder, as with flintlocks (something that I do shoot) you must pack the patch and ball tightly into the charge of powder in order for the rifle to fire properly. If one were to fill a case with as much smokeless as was previously used with black powder, my understanding is that you would be increasing the charge exponentially.

If I also understand the two powders correctly, black powder explodes whereas smokeless powder burns causing the projectile to be propelled by expanding gas as opposed to a kaboom. I may not have this completely correct and will await to hear from those above who are much more knowledgeable on the subject.

Discussions like these are why I turn on my computer in the morning and visit this site. Thanks all.
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Old 09-16-2017, 11:48 AM
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Speaking of black powder exploding, one of the comparatively few things I know about loading with black powder came from "glowe". It was expressed so eloquently I'm not likely to forget it.

It went something like this: A black powder load with exposed space (an air gap between powder and bullet) is a pipe bomb. He went on to say he compresses his black powder loads 1/16".

Offered out of respect for your hands/fingers/other exposed body parts.

Ralph Tremaine

And I reckon this is why black powder (properly loaded) doesn't really explode----it just burns REALLY fast!

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Old 09-16-2017, 12:30 PM
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There is a Vast Dynamic to both powders.( I had to study this in depth for a book that I wrote on the 41 rim-fire). Especially Smokeless powder. However, we as modern smokeless era shooters often place Black powder under a much less respectable column I think likely due to it's antiquity. We shouldn't do that. It is still and probably will always be rated as an explosive. The U.S. Navy conducted tests with Black Powder in the 1870's and proved that it can achieve over 100,000 psi! Many of the old 51 Navy revolvers that were sent to Colt for Conversion( to cartridge) by the Navy Ordinance Department, after the Civil War, were found to have bulged barrels and damaged cylinders from Black powder use during the War. This was likely caused by high stress during combat that forced the veteran to continue shooting the firearm after a miss-fire( a bullet stuck in the bore). All black powder needs is just a little bit more time on the time/pressure curve( measured in a fraction of a second) to achieve a much higher pressure yield with discharge. By not packing down the bullet against the powder charge you are accomplishing the same end. The bullet sits there longer instead of immediately moving forward with the expanding charge with ignition. Therefore achieving a much higher pressure yield from the bullet staying in the gun longer. One more very interesting tid bit for you guys. Recoil is like a hammer against the recoil shield and frame of any firearm. Not unlike an internal combustion engine, there is a harmonic that occurs with discharge as well. I know this is deep but stay with me. A musical note if you will. Smokeless being more aggressive produces a much higher pitch note where as black powder produces a much lower note(normally). This also has a direct impact on longevity of the firearm. Modern firearms can easily handle this higher pitch note. Antiques can't because of there metal make up being much lower quality. Sort of like being shoved vs being punched in the arm. Even a soft punch will eventually leave a mark. Being shoved will only work on your nerves.
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Old 09-16-2017, 01:36 PM
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I only play a professor on TV. I do not claim to be an expert at much of anything, but after 40 years of shooting, reloading and researching, I have learned some important lessons. Most important is always question the advise from random people who have no data or experiences to back up what is being said. So many times, I have wasted huge amounts of time trying to establish the credibility of tall tales, and with the advent of the Internet, there is a huge amount of good and bad information out there. My hero in this field has been an author named Sherman Bell. He used to write for Doublegun Journal and his articles were a series of "Finding our for Myself" topics. He has dispelled many old wives tales with clear reasoning backed up by detailed research and testing. I shoot flintlocks, caplocks, percussion revolvers, vintage military rifles, bolt-action rifles, hammer double shotguns, boxlock & sidelock doubles, semi-auto shotguns, and of course, too many S&Ws. Half the fun of shooting the classics is learning about their history, plus loading and shooting them all to learn about their true capabilities.

Many stories about guns blowing apart due to the use of smokeless powders started back in the transition days of BP to nitro powders. It was because of the exact reasoning that James outlined, loading smokeless with like volumes as BP. BP is easily loaded in all caliber cases without a measure or scale as long as you know that it is necessary to fill the case to just above where the base of the seated bullet rests.

One important difference between BP and smokeless is that BP will explode in open air, while smokeless will burn like a paper fire. You maintain some control of the detonation of BP by eliminating excess air, which is an additional fuel. I have photos of a contemporary flintlock that blew up with only a light target load of BP, as a result of the ball being left in the short-started position. That means that the ball was started down the barrel with a short starter rod and not rammed into the powder. This is the definition of a pipe bomb. Excess oxygen and open space, giving the powder additional oxygen and pressurizing the trapped air beyond the limits of the steel. Smokeless powder is quite different, since it is designed to burn at a certain rate in the presence of air in the case.

As for slugging your barrel, BP and modern ammunition manufactured for vintage top-breaks use soft lead. Reloaders should never use jacketed or high Brinnel lead in these old guns. Old time shooters would have often cast their own bullets and had no thoughts of slugging their barrels, because soft lead is very forgiving and will not dramatically increase the pressures in your barrel/chamber unless you use the wrong caliber bullets. Today, almost all powder company reloading data sites will specify the bullet size for a standard round and the Barnes book is a great source for bullet diameters and cartridge dimension listings of almost every caliber cartridge ever made. Many shooters will lube size all their bullets, especially in BP rifle shooting, mostly for accuracy. Also, most sets of reloading dies will somewhat size your bullets in the final crimping operation. The final test is cambering your rounds as the tolerances in almost all revolvers is very close to the correct bullet size and will not allow a too large bullet to completely seat, unless you are shooting a WC or SWC.

Lastly, a chronograph can tell you a lot about the uniformity of your bullets. In revolver or pistol shooting, many people do not worry too much about standard deviation or extreme spread, but SD & ES can tell you a lot about your reloading. If powder is accurately measured, SD should be low, but if bullets are not uniformly sized, SD can be high. Key is to get into a reloading routine that will give you the velocities you want with a very low SD and you have no surprises. I apply an 8% factor to determine max acceptable ES. If I testing loads and the results are that my slowest load is 700 fps, my max velocity should be 750 fps or less, or an ES of 50 fps. Along with an acceptable ES, my goal for SD is under 20 and only then am I confident in my powder selection, powder measure, bullet sizing, and case crimp to give me acceptable and consistent results.

. . . oh . . . guess that I should mention that gun that exploded was mine, so accidents can happen to us all! It was a Chambers kit gun that I built a few years ago. We were shooting competition on a windy day and the targets kept blowing down. I went out several times to help set them back up and forgot where I was in the loading process. Before and after pictures attached.
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Old 09-16-2017, 02:33 PM
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Default smokeless vs black powder

A lot of interesting material posted above, the only thing I can add is the best definition I have ever come across is also the shortest: smokeless powder burns, black powder detonates.
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Old 09-16-2017, 05:39 PM
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Gary, I added a like to your post but understand it is for the information, not that your Chambers gun blew up. Is that a Lancaster? I built his Lancaster kit back when Getz barrels were still readily available. I have had two incidents with that gun so far.

The first time I was deer hunting and was sitting on the ground leaning back against a tree. The gun was laying across my outstretched legs. I went to adjust my position as a shot had just gone off a short distance in front of me. I always get ready after someone else's shot just in case they miss. My hand barely touched the rear of the hammer and the gun discharged. Luckily due to the very long barrel I still have all of my toes. It turned out that I had not removed enough wood in the lock area and it was affecting the internal lock up.

The second issue occurred on our range during a practice session. I fired the gun and immediately felt something was wrong by the way it discharged. Upon further examination, I found that the white lightning touch hole that I had installed had blown right out of the gun and luckily did not hit anyone standing to my right. I had to re-tap the barrel and install a slightly larger touch hole. So far, knock on wood, no other issues. I wonder now if the touch hole issue could have been caused by not ramming the ball tight enough into the powder charge???????
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Old 09-16-2017, 05:56 PM
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I think that we are all trying to achieve the same goal. "Safety" with shooting firearms and enjoying the hobby with others who share the same interests. Sometimes we are offended by new information that has not been published or you can't find in in your loading book. We are talking about the year 1898 and before. That's over 119 years ago in an era of manufacturing that was not Standardized. The thread was originally regarding a smokeless powder recipe to match the original black powder recipe for an "Antique" revolver manufactured in the Non Standardized Era. Early bullet molds that date to that Era....Not later post 1900 Lyman/Ideal, etc molds....But earlier field loaders were caliber specific. There was no need to slug bores then( Black powder ERA). However, when you want to co-mingle Era's, you will find that Groove and Land diameters of the Antiques varied considerably. Even the late Great Elmer Keith mentioned this in detail in his Six gun book. He wrote that he had found considerable variations in groove diameter of the Early Colt Single Action 45's that concerned him using smokeless conversion loads. He even burst a few in doing that conversion test. Maybe we can accuse him of telling tall tales but hey, he was there!
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Old 09-16-2017, 06:06 PM
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"What's your opinion of a safe smokeless load in the New Model 3s ?"

To get back to the original question after a trip around the world, light smokeless loads are completely safe in black powder-era revolvers. My suggestion would be to use whatever amount of about any fast pistol or shotgun propellant (Unique or faster) that will produce a MV in the 600-700 ft/sec range (i.e., a smokeless load not exceeding original BP ballistics) using as light a bullet as is practical. The early factory smokeless powder revolver loads in the old BP calibers used Bullseye (or something close to it) as a propellant. Of course a chronograph is necessary to work up such loads safely, starting low.
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Old 09-16-2017, 10:02 PM
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Hodgdon is my go to reloading site for many vintage revolver loads. I do load 44 Russian using both Clays and Trail Boss. Trail Boss is a high bulk powder that lends itself well to large capacity cases like 45 Colt and 44 Winchester and is loaded in a wide variety of other BP cartridges. I load either 165 or 200 grain RNFP soft lead bullets and use the minimum loads. In larger calibers, I use Puflon filler with Clays and further reduce the powder by another 10%, so end up with about 2.7 grains of Clays or 3 grains of TB. Both loads will be under 6000 psi and should run aobout 700 fps with either bullet. Safe working strength of steel in the 1870s and 1880s was around 15,000 psi.

Accuracy and velocity will vary from one gun to the next, so use a chronograph to assure proper velocity range and do a little experimenting with bullets and load to find the most accurate formula.
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Old 09-16-2017, 11:00 PM
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As an exercise, I used the Quickload interior ballistics program to assess a .44 Russian load using a 180 grain bullet and 4.0 grains of Bullseye. With a 6" barrel, the calculated peak pressure was 6593 psi with a MV of 707 ft/sec. That's very mild. My experience with Quickload is that it provides optimistic MVs, so I would expect (especially in a revolver) a chronographed MV closer to 650 ft/sec. Increasing the bullet weight to 240 grains raises the calculated peak pressure to 7800 psi and drops the MV to 666 ft/sec. Thus my preference for using lighter bullets to keep the peak pressure down.

Substituting Clays for Bullseye and with the same 180 grain bullet, approximately the same MV is achieved with 2.9 grains, but the calculated peak pressure is increased to about 7300 psi.

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Old 09-17-2017, 12:45 AM
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Very interesting powder loads. I too have experimented with light loads of Bullseye, American Select, and Blue Dot. In dissecting vendor loads from Navy Arms I found that they used Blue Dot ( or the like in double base) for a smokeless substitute for some of the older calibers. However, I noticed a distinct common failure occurring in fired cases. The (smokeless loads) would consistently fail much faster than cases loaded with black powder 3f or pyrodex/777..(substitute). There is not an issue with chamber fit since these reloaded cases were already fired several times from the same gun. So I did not full length resize the cases when reloaded. Yet the longitudinal cracks would develop much faster in smokeless cases and "very rarely" in black powder/Pyrodex or 777 loaded rounds. I always attributed this case failure to peak pressure being what it was. I guess I'm a cheapee. I don't like blowing cases pre-maturely unless they are cheap. Like .38 special. Some of the antique caliber cases are quite pricey. The worst I would ever get from the Black powder loads or substitute loads in pyrodex/777 would be tiny cracks at the crimp point. I would just trim the case and go it again! So back to hot soap and water I went after a day at the range. It's more fun blowing smoke rings anyway with the 44's.
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Old 09-17-2017, 06:28 AM
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I haven't shot my muzzle loader in years when I started I read Sam Fadalas books and my grandad was still alive and he helped me .I know this thread is about revolvers but it kinda has got me itchin to take her out and burn some charcoal lol.I never knew the science of why exactly but now I know why grandad said " ram that ball down tight son everytime" .
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Old 09-17-2017, 09:38 AM
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I have been shooting Clays in revolvers for years and research located shows that Clays mimic the pressure curve of BP. It is a faster powder than Bullseye, and that seems to be what Quickload confirms.

Blue Dot is a magnum shotgun powder and offers a slower pressure build than Clays or BP. It would be interesting to plug that powder into Quickload to see what pressures are. I no longer have access to Quickload and wonder if one can calculate powder weights and peak pressure by inputting a desired velocity?

Paco Kelly @ Levergun.com was able to measure chamber pressures of revolver calibers using black powder and his results are some of the only referenced testing done for handguns. He tested a standard 45 Colt load of 37 grains of BP, under a 255 grain bullet, shot at over 900 fps and over 10,000 psi. He also loaded standard 44-40 and 44 Special loads with BP and measured about 10,000 psi shooting both. All said, 7000 psi and under is indeed a low pressure load.
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Old 09-17-2017, 10:00 AM
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Two things: PURE lead boolits are not required as long as they are no more than .002" bigger diameter than bore groove; a chrono is nice (I own two), but not a necessity for reloading. Start with low powder loads and work up gradually. A favorite load in my 1893 Marlin 38-55 (made for black powder only) is 17 grains of 2400 pistol powder behind a 250 grain hard cast boolit sized to .378" for a bore with groove diameter of .375". For revolvers, it is advisable to slug your chambers as well. Ideally chambers should be slightly over the barrel groove diameter, or you may run into leading and other issues, but that is a topic for another day.
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Old 09-17-2017, 05:55 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DWalt View Post
As an exercise, I used the Quickload interior ballistics program to assess a .44 Russian load using a 180 grain bullet and 4.0 grains of Bullseye. With a 6" barrel, the calculated peak pressure was 6593 psi with a MV of 707 ft/sec. That's very mild. My experience with Quickload is that it provides optimistic MVs, so I would expect (especially in a revolver) a chronographed MV closer to 650 ft/sec. Increasing the bullet weight to 240 grains raises the calculated peak pressure to 7800 psi and drops the MV to 666 ft/sec. Thus my preference for using lighter bullets to keep the peak pressure down.

Substituting Clays for Bullseye and with the same 180 grain bullet, approximately the same MV is achieved with 2.9 grains, but the calculated peak pressure is increased to about 7300 psi.
I'll add some additional Quickload simulation for the .44 Russian loadings with different propellants than above. Each uses the 180 grain bullet and produces a calculated (nominal ) 700 ft/sec MV (6"). Given are propellant/propellant weight in grains/peak pressure (psi):

Unique/4.6/6505
Red Dot/3.3/7402
Green Dot/3.8/6594
Tite Group/3.6/6933
Universal/4.2/6565
WW 231/4.1/6686
AA #2/4.6/6495
AA #5/6.3/6500

Note that this information is calculated and is comparative only for the .44 Russian and may or may not be accurate for real life results. At least for use in the .44 Russian, the relative quickness ranking of propellants is in inverse proportion to the charge weights (i.e., Clays is the highest and AA #5 is the lowest). The same ranking order may not be correct for the same propellants used for other calibers and bullet weights.

Last edited by DWalt; 09-18-2017 at 09:59 AM.
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