HISTORIC WEAPONS & BLACK POWDER
A big thank you to Jean Luc YELMA for writing this page and many thanks to Rod Haselden-Nicholls for translating it.
We start, of course, with a weapon that is clean and in full working order.
The first step is to introduce the powder, either into the barrel of a rifle, or alternatively into a chamber of the cylinder of a revolver. One generally uses Black Powder, in the form of “powder”, poured from the dosing cup of a powder flask (pear). There are also ready-made charges in the form of an agglomerated block of powder. Personally, I do not like the latter as much because there is no flexibility with the ability to vary the size of the dose that suits my need.
Black Powder has a fairly low compressability level which does not increase with quantity, so dosing errors are generally not too dangerous. However, the powder must always be "packed", that is, in contact with the ball without an air gap. This is very important as it allows the igniting powder to act on the ball immediately avoiding too much pressure to build up during ignition. Also, with Black Powder revolvers, where the ball is pushed in by the ramrod (ram-rod under the barrel), one must add an inert element (semolina) between the powder and the ball in case of under dosage.
Then we introduce the ball and push it (with the ramrod) until it comes into contact with the powder or the inert element. Depending on the type of weapon, the ball is introduced naked (for revolvers) or for rifles it is “wrapped” in either fabric or paper.
The ball must be greased, for good lubrication of the barrel. In the case of spherical warheads for revolvers, one must put a little fat over it. This creates a better seal and will avoid several chambers in the cylinder igniting at the same time.
This is very important and I have experienced multiple firings on countless occasions. This may not damage a closed-frame steel weapon (eg a Remington 1858) but it may irreparably damage an open-frame brass weapon (eg a Colt 1851).This is why the rear part of a revolver on either side of the hammer is often referred to as "the shield"!
Once the weapon is loaded it must be primed. On percussion weapons, cock the hammer and place a small copper capsule containing fulminate of mercury on the “nipple” (rear part of the combustion chamber) and, on flintlock weapons, a small amount of priming powder is placed in the flashpan.
Use only black powder.
On your weapons, you will normally find engraved on the barrel the words "Black Powder Only" (“seulement poudre noire”). Attention: this concerns especially the replicas of today, but be aware that this requirement may NOT be engraved on original, historic weapons. In any case, never use another type of powder.
Black powder is the only suitable and safest propellant to use with a muzzle-loading weapon, because, when black powder is used as a propellant, it exerts a relatively low pressure on the mechanics of the weapon.
Even modern replicas of historic weapons, with barrels constructed of steel, are not designed to withstand the high pressures of modern smoke-free powder.
Black powder exists in several granulations, see below:
1f or Fg
The largest granulation, to be used mainly for large-caliber weapons.
2f or FFg or (Musket Shot - gray angular grain 0.6-1.2mm)
Finer granulation than 1f, it can be used for .50 caliber weapons and 10 and 12 gauge juxtaposed guns.
3f or FFFg or (PNF2 - shiny black angular grains 0.25-0.70mm)
This standard granulation powder is recommended for .31 to .36 and .44 revolvers.
4f or FFFFg or (PNF4 - shiny black angular grain 0,1-0,25mm)
This is the powder of finest granulation, recommended for pistols and revolvers of caliber .31 to .36 (maximum), and to prime flintlock weapons.
Keep the black powder away from any source of heat, and in its original packaging, but especially never in plastic containers because of electrostatic charges.
Also avoid those powder-measures not adapted for black powder – the tube containing the black powder must be replaced by an aluminum tube; enquire at your gun-smith.
Failure to do so could cause a spark and a "BOOM ".