Early Smokeless Powders and Revolvers...looking for answers

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SavvyJack posted this 25 March 2020

I have been reading up on early smokeless powders again and I have run into a few places that claim even Colt advised against using the new powder in Colt revolvers, or at least the 45 Colt revolvers. Can anyone offer any more reliable information?

As we all know by now, Winchester did not "offer" smokeless powder for Colt's 44-40 revolvers. Between 1895 and 1899, five years, there was no information advising against it on Winchester's new cartridge boxes with red labels. By 1900 "Not For Pistols" was added to the label but dropped from the label in 1909. I don't know about other ammunition manufacture offering smokeless powder for the 45 Colt. I have yet to check into it.

With the dates 1900-1909 I did find some other information that is certainly very interesting. Winchester's issues with the revolvers is unknown to me but looking at the powder dates could shed some light between smokeless powders and revolvers.

44-40 pre-1900 Smokeless Powders  

All Bulk "blonde in color" powder    

It is rather difficult to follow the dates of these 44-40 powders with the exception of when they were introduced. Dupont and Laflin & Rand appear to have manufactured the three earliest powders I can find;  

1894 - Dupont's No.2 Smokeless Rifle Powder

1896 - Laflin & Rand's "Sporting Rifle Powder"

1897 - Laflin & Rand's "Sharpshooter"    

The "Sharpshooter" powder (1897), probably being the more forgiving of the three, was also approved specifically for "Black Powder Rifles".   Laflin & Rand "Sporting Rifle Powder" shows use specifically for "Rifle and Revolver" on the can but we also find Winchester factory ammunition loads were not approved for use in revolvers until at least 1909. I wonder if this has anything to do with Sharpshooter#2 being introduced in this time frame? [Sharpshooer introduced in 1897 by L&R, then to Dupont after L&R destroyed by fire, then to Hercules by 1909 due to a law suit]     The Laflin & Rand "Sporting Rifle Powder" shows a load for 17gr for the 44-40 which is the same as Dupont's "No.2" 44-40 load data of 17gr, both being of the blonde in color and "rocky texture"  

 

Ironically it seems even before the smokeless powder was "proven" for revolvers, Winchester had already developed the High Velocity "Low Pressure" loads by 1903(Yellow labels). Hercules (1903-1914) "Sharpshooter" shows a High Velocity load in the load data on the back of the can. It also is amusing to me that by the time Winchester removed the "Not for Revolvers" from the smokeless powder (Red label) boxes by 1909, the 1910 High Velocity "High Pressure" (Yellow label) loads jumped from "low pressure" to 22,000cup high pressures...showing that the smokeless powder rifle loads were way in advance of the smokeless powder revolver loads.  

 

continued below......    

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SavvyJack posted this 25 March 2020

To back up some...  

 

As we all know Bullseye and Unique came out about 1898/1900 respectively.

L&R Bullseye...
...was introduced in 1898 to replace L&R's "Smokeless Revolver Powder. This is one of those powders that had several types. There were two versions of Bullseye, the first of which was known as Bullseye #1 or “dust” Bullseye. L&R Bullseye #2 was supposed to have been brought out in 1904 as small round black discs .038” dia. X .003”, ostensibly because there were insufficient quantities of #1 to meet demand. It contained 40% NG. This Bullseye #2 is what we identify today as Bullseye, and is believed that it has not changed formula since its introduction in 1898. It went to DuPont in 1907 and to Hercules in 1912. Bullseye, Unique, and Infallible were all made from the same formula, the only difference being granulation. It is still manufactured by Alliant in 2007. ~Klaus Neuschaefer    

With that said, those dates begin to intertwine in that 1900-1909 time frame. However, another thing I have yet to do is understand what powders Winchester used for the 44-40 over time. We certainly know that they used Dupont No.2 and Sharpshooter for rifles but at what point did Winchester start loading the 44-40 with pistol powders. Sharpshooter was available up to WWII.

Again, "Not for Pistols" was dropped from Winchester's 44-40 smokeless powder ammunition (normal loads) by 1909...I wonder why

It appears that Winchester's 44-40 factory loads maintained at least 1,310fps up until 1978, of which then it dropped to 1,190fps and is still that way today although mine chronographed at 1,025fps.

It was also in the early 1970's that SAMMI seemed to standardize 12,000cup MAP (rather than many years of reputable handloading manuals showing 15,000cup) with the advent of the piezoelectric transducer showing that their 12,000cup was equal to 11,000psi with those test loads.

To ramble on a bit further, during the 1930's, popular powders used in the (200gr JSP) 44-40 REVOLVERS were ONLY Bullseye and Unique both showing max loads of 15,000cup, recommended by Hercules.

Okay, my brain hurts!

https://sites.google.com/view/44winchester/powders/smokeless-powders-transition-years


  https://sites.google.com/view/44winchester/cartridge-boxes/winchester-cartridge-box-timeline-1960-2020  

https://saami.org/about-saami/history/

 

 

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SavvyJack posted this 27 March 2020

One of the things I forgot which someone on another forum reminded me; "The Army asked the DuPont Company to develop a special powder, as the Bullseye powder lacked sufficient bull to prevent double charging. The result was DuPont's Revolver, Special Quality, or RSQ as it was known." This did guide me back to were I member seeing that information. Sharpe again!



Below is a chart I made that shows the time period and some powders. Feel free to comment on errors or updates needed.

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RicinYakima posted this 27 March 2020

Dates are interesting, must have been for the Model 1909 New Service for the Army and USMC.

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SavvyJack posted this 27 March 2020

Dates are interesting, must have been for the Model 1909 New Service for the Army and USMC.

 

I am thinking you are correct. As well as, the "new" 45 Colt cases had larger rims specifically for the Model 1909...according to what I read. Later I see where a handloader could shave the rims to fit in the 45 Colt SAA revolvers. There is still a lot left to this story I have yet to see .

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RicinYakima posted this 27 March 2020

I have a Frankfort Arsenal depriming and cleaning kit for 45 Schofield, 30 US Army, 30 Model 1903, 30 Model 1906 and the 1909 45 Revolver with the larger rim. When ever possible the Army saved the brass and reloaded it for practice ammo, especially after 1898 and found out Americans could no shoot. I don't know that the military ever issued .45 Colt's Revolver after about 1875. Frankfort Arsenal  was still making 45 Schofield until  the .38 Long was adapted.   

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SavvyJack posted this 28 March 2020

Here are two dissected Winchester 44-40 cartridges. One from 1992 (flat head primer) with factory published velocities of 1,190fps. The second could be a Western or Winchester-Western date unknown. Has the button (rounded head) )primer. Should be at least a 1,310fps cartridge.

23 Sept 1992 code dated, Orange and Red banner Winchester box. Advertised 1,190fps. 8gr of a disc like pistol powder.
WW 44-40 Win. headstamp

 

 

Western 44-40 Win. headstamp (round head primer), Date unknown, box colors unknown. 12.8gr of ball/disc or flattened ball powder.

I have a third cartridge not yet dissected, it is also a round head primer but WW 44-40 Win headstamp. I am betting that both the second and third cartridges are from the 1970's, The WW from the Winchester-Western yellow X white box and the Western from the Western red X white box. Since both are advertised at 1,310fps (#W4440 and #4440), I bet the powder used is the same...12.8gr of ball powder.

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SavvyJack posted this 28 March 2020

The third cartridge, although a WW (round head primer), also contained a ball/disc or flattened ball powder but slightly less at 12.5gr. Should also be a 1,310fps factory load. (powder shown is only a small sample)

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RicinYakima posted this 28 March 2020

I believe factory ammo is loaded with non canister powder. It is up to the company to determine charge weight with their own laboratory test for pressure and burn rate. That is one of the reasons the stuff we buy is more expensive, because they have to keep specifications within limits.

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SavvyJack posted this 28 March 2020

I believe factory ammo is loaded with non canister powder. It is up to the company to determine charge weight with their own laboratory test for pressure and burn rate. That is one of the reasons the stuff we buy is more expensive, because they have to keep specifications within limits.

 

I do believer you are correct or something like that!!  The charge should give us a hint at what was used though, large charge vs small charge.

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RoosterM posted this 03 February 2021

I know I’m late to the party, but I find this thread fascinating.

 

Could that 12.8 grain charge be something along the lines of Winchester 571? An old Olin/Winchester ball powder for shotgun/handgun use, that was faster than 2400 but slower than Unique. It seems plausible to me that Winchester would have used a powder like that for 44-40 in the postwar era, before they reduced the load after ’78. Tho certainly some non-canister variety, as noted above.

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M3 Mitch posted this 03 February 2021

As for "not for pistols" ammo, I have read that back in the day, the ammo manufacturers offered "rifle only" hotter ammo in 32-20, 38-40, and 44-40.  I think this was before WWII.  Of course you can load this "Plus P" type ammo yourself, many manuals have loads graded for M92 but not M73, etc. 

Of course, pay attention, don't let the hotter loads find their ways into weaker gats.  To help me keep M86 45-70 ammo away from my Springfield, I load the Lyman 292 grain bullet only for the 86, and I color the bullet meplat black with a marker.  This should stop all but the most dedicated idiot from getting in trouble with them. 

Of course anymore you can buy Buffalo Bore and etc. cast bullet factory loads in 45-70 that I personally consider too hot for original M86 rifles, I would shoot that only in recent Marlin, "Remlin", and Ruger #1/#3 rifles. 

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SavvyJack posted this 03 February 2021

As for "not for pistols" ammo, I have read that back in the day, the ammo manufacturers offered "rifle only" hotter ammo in 32-20, 38-40, and 44-40.  I think this was before WWII.  Of course you can load this "Plus P" type ammo yourself, many manuals have loads graded for M92 but not M73, etc. 

 

Correct! Winchester manufactured "High Velocity" loads from 1903 to about 1946 as well as did several other manufactures. While these Winchester HV loads suggested "Low Pressure" on early boxes, later boxes reported up to 22,000cup. Personally I think the difference was the actual pressures of black powder compared to the pressures of early smokeless powder. Early smokeless powder was said to create less pressure than black powder. Short lived, pressures quickly rose with superior smokeless powder formulas.

So while the Winchester M92 was using said high velocity charges in 1903, smokeless powder over-all was not recommended for Revolvers until 1919. Sixteen years is a long time.

 

To help me keep M86 45-70 ammo away from my Springfield,

Exactly, for some reason folks don't whine and cry when folks talk about 45-70 and 45 Colt hot loads but god forbid we talk about 44-40 "hot" loads.

 

I replicated some boxes to separate by loads.

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Eutectic posted this 04 February 2021

Since the ball powder process was developed in 1933, the cartridge with ball powder has to later than that. Reloaders did not get canister ball powders until the 60's but the military and ammunition companies were loading ball powders in the 40's.

Steve

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SavvyJack posted this 04 February 2021

Since the ball powder process was developed in 1933, the cartridge with ball powder has to later than that. Reloaders did not get canister ball powders until the 60's but the military and ammunition companies were loading ball powders in the 40's.

Steve

 

The earliest ball powder I have seen so far in the Winchester  44-40 cartridges dates to August 1949

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mashburn posted this 04 February 2021

Hello to all of you contributors to this thread,

This is one of the most interesting (to me) threads that have been on the forum in a while. Since being a member, on this forum, i have learned a lot of information about old rifle and handgun powder. Keep up the good work, please.

Mashburn

David a. Cogburn

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RoosterM posted this 04 February 2021

One aspect of this thread I find particularly interesting, is regarding the use of early smokeless powder in period revolvers. All discussions of this topic I’ve seen has focused on the question entirely from the perspective of the gun. I’ve never before heard anyone examine the properties and evolution of contemporary smokeless powders.

 

For example, take the Colt Single Action. Here’s what (I think) I know about the SAA and smokeless powder, from my own library (and mostly from John Kopec).

 

  1. In the middle of 1883 Colt switched from using Marshall Iron imported from England, for the frames, to steel. This caused some manufacturing problems regarding the lock work which delayed delivery of some 2000 revolvers under the eighth U.S. government contract. General Franklin of Colt’s wrote to the Chief of Ordnance about this on June 22nd, 1883.
  2. At or around serial number 165,000 the headspace was standardized at 0.06”.
  3. Colt Factory shipping records document that revolvers with serial numbers between 175,000 and 180,000 were not guaranteed for use with smokeless powder.
  4. I’ve seen pictures of 1890’s Colt SAA boxes with a sticker that says: “The within Revolver is not adapted for Smokeless Powder.”
  5. The large fouling cutout was eliminated in the front of the top strap around 1935, coinciding with or because of, the chambering of the .357 Magnum.

 

Given it appears early smokeless powder could be erratic, and that smokeless revolver powder wasn’t even introduced until 1898, I’m forced to consider that Colt’s initial misgivings about the use of smokeless powder may have had as much to do with the developmental maturity of the propellant as it did with the strength of their guns. It’s hard to say of course, but maybe we could interpret their period warning today to read: “The within Revolver is not adapted for Late 19th Century Smokeless Powder Loadings.” Or am I going too far?

It’s also easy to imagine why a cartridge like the .44 Special, as late as 1907, would have debuted as a black powder offering. It wasn’t until the late ‘20’s or early ‘30’s, that smokeless powder demonstrated real value in a revolver. With high-speed loadings of the .38 special and ultimately the .357 magnum.

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Bud Hyett posted this 05 February 2021

Phil Sharpe's Complete Guide to Handloading discusses the early smokeless powders and their development. He notes problems, especially barrel erosion caused by some of these powders. He also compares the early DuPont powders to the Improved Military Powders (IMR) that replaced them. 

Chapters 15 through 19 (XV - IXX) deal with the history of semi-smokeless and smokeless powder. Interesting reading.  

There is a *.PDF file you can download of this book: Phil Sharpe Complete Guide to Handloading

There is also reloading data for cartridges you've never heard of unless you are over 75 years old. The entire book is worth reading in the cold winter nights. 

Farm boy from Illinois, living in the magical Pacific Northwest

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SavvyJack posted this 05 February 2021

It wasn’t until the late ‘20’s or early ‘30’s, that smokeless powder demonstrated real value in a revolver. With high-speed loadings of the .38 special and ultimately the .357 magnum.

 

 

Sharpe mentions this issue in his 1930's manuals regarding smokeless pistol powder use in the 44-40. He states:

" The 44-40 is capable of excellent performance when loaded properly for handgun use. If, however, one endeavors to combine loading for both handgun and rifle in this caliber, he is destined to meet with only mediocre success. As in all other dual-purpose cartridges, the factory loads are only a compromise at best. Smokeless-powder loading for handguns requires a much more rapid-burning type than loading for rifle use, as the short barrel must burn all the powder if satisfactory results are to be achieved. In addition, rifle cartridges can be loaded to a pressure of about 30,000 pounds in this caliber, whereas the same load in a revolver would be more or less disastrous."

 

Although this is true, note he is referring to loading pistols with pistol powder rather than with rifle powder. Today it would be quite the opposite. If one plans to get the best performance from a rifle, the handloader needs to use a slower burning rifle powder. If one desires to get the best performance with pistol powders, the shooter will far exceed the chamber pressures when using pistol powders.

Keep in mind that IMR4227 and 2400 powders were slower burning rifle powders long before the advent of the magnum handgun cartridges.

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SavvyJack posted this 05 February 2021

Phil Sharpe's Complete Guide to Handloading discusses the early smokeless powders and their development. He notes problems, especially barrel erosion caused by some of these powders. He also compares the early DuPont powders to the Improved Military Powders (IMR) that replaced them. 

Chapters 15 through 19 (XV - IXX) deal with the history of semi-smokeless and smokeless powder. Interesting reading.  

There is a *.PDF file you can download of this book: Phil Sharpe Complete Guide to Handloading

There is also reloading data for cartridges you've never heard of unless you are over 75 years old. The entire book is worth reading in the cold winter nights. 

 

You bet, I encourage everyone to learn why we are were we are today. Sharpe's books are a valuable source. I am lucky enough to have the 1937 hardcopy.

 

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M3 Mitch posted this 05 February 2021

I'm not certain what the date is on my hard copy, but I have one too, very interesting reading, fills you in on "the rest of the story" so to speak.  Some of the information in Sharpe's book is still of practical use, but most of it is not, information on powders that were discontinued when my Grandpa was still in diapers, and now I am a mature guy of 63. 

 

That is a fine looking table full of "old stuff".  I like old Kerosene lamps as well, have at least a dozen around the place, if the power goes off, I'm not wandering around in the dark.

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mashburn posted this 06 February 2021

i had a hardback volume of Phil  Sharpe's  book, I'm not sure when it was printed. I traded it to a friend of mine and I still look at it when I'm visiting him. Like Bud said, "If you are familiar with some of the cartridges in the book you had to be at least 70 years old", well, I'm well past 70 and am familiar with a lot of that stuff. The friend that I traded it too still doesn't know that these are antiquated cartridges because that is basically the cartridges that he shoots. Just a joke, but he knows how to enjoy guns of the past .As Bud also said 'there is a wealth of information besides reloading within those covers.

Bud, thanks for the information about the down load. Now I want have to go visit my buddy to read my old book.

Mashburn

David a. Cogburn

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SavvyJack posted this 06 February 2021

I was lucky enough to get a signed copy

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mashburn posted this 08 February 2021

This is interupting the thread, but I have to ask. How does the powders that Remington used compare with the Winchester powders.

Mashburn

David a. Cogburn

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SavvyJack posted this 08 February 2021

This is interupting the thread, but I have to ask. How does the powders that Remington used compare with the Winchester powders.

Mashburn

 

Mashburn,

Although I have not been able to dig deep into the Remington 44-40 cartridges, Remington did use Sharpshooter for both of their pre and post 1923 High Velocity loads. I have two examples which can be seen here:

Remington High Velocity cartridges

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