Working with Black Powder
Any time you load black powder (BP) you must have the powder contained, i.e. something needs to keep the powder charge all together, with no excess room around the grains of powder. These methods should work equally well in both revolvers and pistols.
It's Not Just for Breakfast Anymore
One method that seems popular with re-enactors with 44-caliber cap-and-ball revolvers is to load about 20 or 30 grains of black powder and put some cream of wheat on top of that. How much cream of wheat? Well, one source cited 30 grains of BP with 20 grains of cream of wheat, so that sounds like a good starting point. In a 36-caliber gun, I would reduce those numbers to about 15 grains of powder, and 20 to 25 grains of cream of wheat.
When using a revolver rather than a pistol, you may need to use a tool other than the gun's loading lever to pack the cream of wheat into each chamber... the narrow end of the ramming portion of many loading levers may not provide a consistent "pack" across the entire chamber. Something with a diameter that's about the size of the chamber would be better.
Wax bullets may also be used, but would be a lot more trouble than using cream of wheat, and may be slightly more dangerous due to the fact that it does shoot a projectile (however weak and wimpy). To do that, you'd cut wads from a thin sheet of paraffin or bees wax, and place those on top of a light powder charge. Naturally, the wads would need to be a snug fit in the chambers (revolver) or bore (pistol) of your gun.
I have also heard of florist's foam being used atop a modest powder charge - say 20 grains or so, in a 44. Again, the plug of foam needs to be a snug fit in the chamber/bore of the gun. I would worry about the stuff melting and coating the bore of my gun, but some folks use them regularly and say they pretty much disintegrate. Florist's foam is that green stuff they stick flowers into when making floral arrangements.
Reader Michael Harris wrote me and said that when he used to do wild west reenactments, he used the following method:
"We would use foam egg cartons to seal in the powder. We used a 45 cartridge case to cut wads to fit in our 44 revolvers, and a 38 case to cut the wads for our 36s. Once the powder was loaded we simply rammed in the foam wad so it was flat in the chamber. A drop of nail polish was brushed around the edge to seal it in place.
"The nail polish would dry in just a minute or so, so we were able to load right before our show, or even reload during the shows. The foam and polish would burn out when fired and did no damage to the gun.
"It is quick and easy, and you can cut two to three hundred wads from a single egg carton."
I believe these methods could be used in rifles, too... but, try any or all of these methods, whether rifle, handgun, or shotgun, at your own risk. I believe they are safe, but I make no claim that you will not experience some sort of damage, and I will not be liable for the use or misuse of any information provided on this Web site. And as always, keep guns pointed in a safe direction at all times - and don't shoot at people, blanks or no blanks!
- Russ Chastain