Setting up my Sharps Model 1859 Berdan .54 Civil War Marksman's Rifle (Pedersoli)

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GregT posted this 3 weeks ago

     Having just about completed work with my Winchester Model 1905, .35 WSL rifle, and totally stopped at this point by the onset of Wisconsin's winter, I decided to continue work with a Berdan Sharps Model 1859 that I bought at least ten years ago and really did not do much with. The rifle is equipped with with double set triggers and I have installed a Pedersoli Model USA 407 Goodwin Style vernier tang sight.

     I have fired about ten shots out of this rifle, using a Lee .54 caliber cast bullet and loose powder in the chamber. (This is the Berdan Sharps that has a sliding chamber sleeve which is supposed to press rear-ward and seal the face of the breech-block as the rifle is fired).

     I would like to find an original style slug for this rifle. Especially wonder if Accurate might be a source for such a mold? I would like to make my own combustible paper cartridges. I have Potassium Nitrate that I can mix with water and soak the paper that I want to use for cartridges. I sort of think I might be able to super glue the front of the loaded paper cartridges to the base of the slug, keeping in mind to make the paper cartridge long enough so the breech block shears the rear of the paper cartridge off as it is closed in the action.

     I have ten of the brass chamber inserts that can be filled with powder and then snap a bullet into the front end of the sleeve and insert in the chamber. The bullet for this set-up takes a Pedersoli mold to cast the bullet that has a projection on the base that fits the front of the brass chamber inserts. These inserts don't give you much of a powder charge and I want a full power load in this rifle. Paper cartridges with a bullet having a flat base is what I am after. I have not slugged the bore yet. 

     I need to have you guys help me out with this rifle. I did not shoot the rifle very much as most of you probably know that shooting a brass cased Sharps and cleaning it is a piece of cake compared to shooting one of the paper case, percussion Sharps battle rifles. I have a very good selection of black-powder and caps.

     What do you all think!

I thank you again!

Greg T

Hayward, Wisconsin  ( 25 degrees right now with 4 inches of heavy, wet snow last night)

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JeffinNZ posted this 3 weeks ago

What do I think?  I think you are some FANTASTIC projects.  Keep reporting.

Cheers from New Zealand

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GregT posted this 3 weeks ago

Thank you for the reply! After collecting since I was 16 years old in 1964, I have many projects laying in the weeds!

Greg T.

Hayward, Wisconsin

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admiral posted this 3 weeks ago

Try era's gone bullet molds

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delmarskid posted this 3 weeks ago

Track of the Wolf may have bullets to try. Duelists Den on YouTube has a couple good videos regarding the Sharps. He goes into good detail on cartridge building and materials.

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Lee Guthrie posted this 2 weeks ago

I MAY have quite a bit of info on this rifle, cartridge, and bullet.  You refer to it as a "Berdan".  If so, it may not be what I have, nor several other friends of mine have.

Is it actually the Model 1851 slant breech aka "paper cutter" ???  If so, then this is the bullet and mould that you want:  NEI  54-500-2 cavity, 500gr  Original Sharps design.  Getting an NEI is highly unlikely, however, one of the custom mould manufacturers should be able to make one for you, and I have seen "original Sharps" moulds listed from others.  It is a "Christmas Tree" design with a ring tail.  The nitrated paper cartridge is tied to the rear of the bullet around the tail.  On loading, the paper cartridge is jammed into the chamber forcing the bullet into the rifling, then the rear of the paper cartridge is sheared off on closing.  The brass casings you mention will not chamber in my rifle.  Either use paper cartridges or hand press the bullet into the chamber, tilt the muzzle down and fill the chamber with loose powder, attach a flanged musket cap, and go bang.  Definitely use FFG powder if filling with loose powder as my chamber will hold over 150 grains of loose FFFG.  Behind a 500 gr bullet the loose FFFG kicks a little bit.  The paper cartridge can be made from cigarette papers, lick and seal the edges, tie on the bullet, fill the tube with powder, and tie the base with same nitrated sewing thread as for the bullet.  I found that using onion skin typing paper worked better:  cut to size then use a spray bottle filled with nitrate solution and give it a spritz.  You can vary the total powder charge a little by using different size wooden mandrel to wrap the paper around -- not a lot of variation, but some.

 I have used a minie in this rifle by hand seating the bullet, then pouring in powder.  However, accuracy has not been very good.  I believe this results from overdriving the minie and blowing the skirt off, or at the very least damaging the skirt.

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GregT posted this 2 weeks ago

Good evening!

     My rifle is definitely a Model 1859 Sharps. It is termed a "Berdan" due to the double set triggers that are mounted on the rifle. The moveable sleeve in the chamber intrigues me as Sharps did so much to cut the loss of gas upon firing the round. The sleeve is pushed back against the moveable plate on the face of the breech block under pressure when the rifle is fired. In order for this to work, the chamber sleeve must be kept moveable as does the plate on the face of the breech block. There is a mark on the plate indicating that the circular sleeve has indeed impacted there under pressure.

     Tonight I reassembled the rifle as I had taken it apart to clean out old lube and preservative. I have an original bayonet for the rifle (brass handled) and I would like to find the mount for the bayonet and have it professionally attached to the rifle so that I can "fix bayonets". The bayonet I have was found on a farm near Ft. Robinson in an out-building and it is mounted in a display of brass-handled bayonets on the wall in front of my desk.

   You have provided excellent information in your post and I am going to read it over again carefully. I thought I would use short lengths of hardwood dowel to form the paper tube for the cartridge. I need to slug the bore, but the description of the rifle in the Dixie catalog says it is .541". I have plenty of soft lead.

Thanks again!

Greg T.

Hayward, Wisconsin

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Lee Guthrie posted this 2 weeks ago

I found this pic of what resembles my Sharps mould.  While my mould also has the decreasing diameter driving bands from front to back, the front two bands on mine are slightly more pronounced.  Probably where the additional 25-30 grains of weight on mine comes from.

 

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springfield41 posted this 2 weeks ago

Suggest you visit the North South Skirmish Association website. They have a number of shooters who use sharps and you can find what you are looking for there. One fellow makes tubes you can preload with powder and bullet and helps the loading process. Someone can also advise how to improve the pressure plate seal so you can fire more rounds before cleaning. Hope this helps

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hporter posted this 2 weeks ago

Moose Molds makes several Sharps molds for these rifles.   http://www.moosemoulds.com/  I have one of their Christmas Tree molds for my 1859 Sharps and it casts a nice bullet.  I also have an old Rapine Christmas Tree mold, but I couldn't find it recently.

I sent my replica 1859 Sharps carbine off to Charlie Hahn about 7 years ago for his chamber modification.  And sadly, it was a project that I did not pick up again until recently.  I had him remove the original front sight and braze on a taller sight so that I can adjust it for a 50 yard zero.

Charlie advised that these Armi Sport replica's had a large chamber in comparison to other replicas, and encouraged me to buy a larger mold.  So I ordered one of George Gompf's molds.  It is a Christmas Tree mold just like my Moose mold, but larger in diameter.  His bullets fit Charlies cardboard loading tubes perfectly.

Here is a website that sells his tubes:  https://stores.jaymescompany.com/hahns-sharps-paper-cartridge/

So I have loaded a bunch of rounds and I am going to shoot them this coming Friday. I plan to try to file the sight down to get my 50 yard zero pending good grouping.  I can get approximately 45-50 grains of powder in the tubes I ordered, depending on how aggressively I vibrate the charge down to compact them.  I have also loaded around 20 cardboard tubes with 35 grains and filler just to see what this rifle does.

I fired it exactly one time before sending it to Charlie. I was at the 200 yard line of our local range.  I raised the ladder sight, not knowing where it would hit.  The first shot went short, adjusted the sight, the second went high and I couldn't get the third round to fire.  Hence, I sent it off to Charlie to clean up the block and do his chamber modification.

I have loaded the Lee Hollow based mini bullet in paper cartridges spanning 40 to 50 grains, and I have loaded both the Moose Mold and the Gompf bullet in Charlies Tubes.  It should be a pleasant day of shooting, and I am looking forward to it.

A suggestion was made above for the Era's Gone bullet mold for the Sharps.  He has been out of these for a while, as I have been watching his website as I would like to purchase one of these too.  It would be a good candidate for paper cartridges.

I have made several templates for my Cricut paper cutting machine and it is very easy to turn out a large number of cartridge papers with it using tracing paper.  Charlies tubes are relatively inexpensive, but it is nice to be able to do it all yourself when desired.

Here is a photo of some loaded cartridges using Charlies tubes and some I made a while ago using ladies curling paper.

The top couple are the Lee Mini bullet in tracing paper cartridges.  Then a couple in Charlies tubes.  And finally one in the curling papers that I made a few years ago.  I used to dip my bullets in my homemade SPG lube.  They fit tighter in the chamber, of course, and are shorter as a result.  I also have a sizing die for my Star lubesizer, so I have been using it instead of dipping the whole bullet.

Here is a photo of a dipped versus Star lubed bullet.  I left them both for 8 hours in the full sun of a 96 degree Houston Texas day.  I was pleased to see that neither lubed bullet melted under that heat.

 

Good luck with your rifle.  It sounds like a nice one.

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hporter posted this 2 weeks ago

Greg,

Just a little more feedback to your original question.

I shot 50 paper cartridges through my 1859 Armi Sport Sharps carbine yesterday.  They were a mixture of the homemade paper cartridges and the cardboard tube cartridges.

I had read that nitrated or combustible paper was not required when making cartridges.  I confirmed that yesterday.  Every round fired, whether made from tracing paper, curling paper or cardboard.  The cardboard ones were a bit amusing, because you would get a bunch of confetti coming from the bore upon each shot.

I had super glued my Christmas tree bullets into the cardboard tubes. I had used Elmers white glue on some of the cartridges, and fast set craft glue on others.  All worked well.

As I said, I shot 50 rounds and only ran a wet patch and then a dry once about the mid point of shooting.  My chamber looked like this at the end of shooting.

 

The Christmas tree bullets that I dip lubed were much more difficult to load as the chamber fouled.  And the curling paper that I used as cartridge paper for the dipped bullets tended to disintegrate when trying to insert the cartridges into the fouled chamber.  Granted, the cartridges were formed in 2014, so I suppose the paper may have deteriorated in strength some since then. 

I was surprised that the potency of the 40 grain loads formed in 2014 seemed on par with the ones I loaded a few weeks ago.  I have always read that BP was very hygroscopic, and I was curious whether they would fire after all these years.  They were stored in my air conditioned reloading room in a plastic cartridge box, but this is Houston Texas after all.  But they all fired just fine.

The Christmas tree bullets glued into the cardboard tubes were very easy to load into the fouled chamber in comparison.  Being stiff and slightly smaller than the bore diameter, they were easy to insert.  The bullets for these cartridges were lubed in my star lubesizer with my homemade SPG copy.  They shot very well.  I used curling paper to cap the breech end for all of these cartridges, and the fire from the cap seemed to penetrate these well. 

The cardboard tube cartridges are super simple to assemble. I just dumped the powder from my Belding and Mull visible powder measure into the tube that I had already glued the curling paper end cap on.  A quick swipe with the glue on the button of the bullet base, and insert it into the tube and you are done.

The tracing paper I used for the Lee hollow based mini bullets worked well. It was considerable stiffer than the curling paper, and combusted just fine.  The tracing paper is by far, much easier to form the cartridges with as well.  I shot them up early in this exercise, so the chamber wasn't as fouled, but they loaded easily.

As I mentioned in my previous post, the first time out with this carbine it fired twice, and then I couldn't get it to fire again.  So this was the first real outing with my carbine.  I imagine I have much more to learn about loading for it.  But I can say that I like the Charlie Hahn chamber modification very much.  It was also much easier to clean the breech block and chamber than the original configuration.  You did not seem to have any issues firing your rifle, but I just wanted to provide feedback about the modification for others that may have had issues like I did.

I was impressed that I could keep firing again and again, even with all the fouling in the chamber and barrel.  I have been shooting cap and ball revolvers for 40 years, so I am no stranger to the problem of BP fouling.  And to keep shooting my Shiloh Sharps 45-70, I had to keep a blow tube and range rod nearby.  But this little carbine kept firing and accurately too.

I had the front sight filed down to hit right on at 50 yards in about 20 shots.  So I shot the rest of them banging steel plates at 50 yards and popping soda cans at 25 yards.  Even the 50th shot popped a soda can at 25 yards.  I really did not expect the accuracy to be there, even if I could still chamber the cartridges. Especially since I was not wiping or blowing the bore between shots.

And I loaded all of these rounds to sit flush with end of the chamber.  That worked well.  Some of the dipped bullets with the curling paper bodies did not enter the chamber fully as the gun fouled, and the ends were sheared off as you mentioned in your first post.  That works, and it shot fine. But it makes a mess of power residue all over the nipple, the hammer and where the Lawrence pellet feed used to be and is now just a lump of metal.  No big deal, but more to clean up after the end of the day shooting.

I was also impressed by the Christmas tree bullet staying vertically in line with the target bullseye as the power charge changed. The windage was perfect.  The Lee Mini's were shooting a good 4" to the right of the target.  But of course that is just the case in my specific carbine.

So in summary - I found that I did not have any problems shooting non nitrated cartridge paper, loading them chamber length worked fine, the Christmas tree bullet carried enough lube to keep shooting accurately even as the gun became very fouled and that I really enjoyed shooting this carbine. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning - it was just that much fun.

I may try using cigarette rolling papers next time for the end cap.  The ladies curling paper that I bought was very textured and sometimes made a bit of a glue mess on my dowel when inserting them.  The glue goes through the pattern on the paper so you have to keep your forming dowel wiped clean.

The silver HVAC tape that you see people using on their cartridge forming dowels to build them up to the proper diameter also helps in releasing the paper from the dowel.  Very useful.

I did have about 6 misfires during the shooting.  I was using RWS musket caps.  They may not be hot enough, but this was my first time really using them so I have nothing to compare them with. It also may have been a bit of crud or something in the firing path in the breech block because the misfires only happened in the first 15 rounds or so - and then the carbine fired 100% after that.

Hope some of this feedback may be of use to you.

 

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RicinYakima posted this 2 weeks ago

Very interesting post, since I have never seen on of these fired in 65 years of shooting!

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GregT posted this 2 weeks ago

Good Sunday morning!

   What an immense batch of information! I have been in brief contact with Tom at Accurate Bullet Molds  for some general info. I have decided to order a double cavity brass mold, each cavity a different design. My rifle's groove diameter measures at .541" inches. I intend to have my mould set up so it drops at .542". I have one of the first Shiloh New Model 63 Carbines in .50 caliber when they were starting out in New York. That one does not have a chamber gas tube and I load that with loose powder behind a bullet I seat with with a bullet seater (round wood ball with a wooden dowel for pushing the bullet into the chamber). I may or may not use a paper cartridge for holding the powder... We'll see how it goes. I have a heated shooting shed... and I can see where this Sharps is not a pleasant rifle to shoot with cold hands! Never had a problem with the little Shiloh carbine. I added a genuine Sharps patch box into the butt, and, unbelievably as it might seem, I found an original, complete Sharps percussion lock with the Lawrence disc primer intact, still workable, but no discs, that I have installed on the Shiloh carbine! It dropped right into the lock recess and away I went! It would take all of five minutes to put it on the Pedersoli Model 59 Sharps. I intend to keep that chamber tube moveable by using anti-seize lube around the outside diameter of it. While I can't lube the entire tube, I can reach 3/4ths of it and that should be enough. Then upon firing, the tube will back up against the recoil plate on the front of the block like it was supposed to. It probably only moves a thousandth of an inch, if that. I am also going to use anti-seize lube on the mortise cuts in the receiver that the breech bolt works within. We'll see it that might ease the fouling at that point.

The bullets I plan on using from Accurate Molds are: 54-510M, and 54-505J. I tried to print out the schematic drawings of each bullet, but nothing works to get them to the printer. The may be protected drawings. I can photograph them on the screen and then simply print out the photo. 

Thanks again!

Greg T.

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hporter posted this 2 weeks ago

Greg,

 

Here are the two designs you chose for the rest of us to see:

 

 

 

That was a good idea to get two designs cut into one block.   Ed Harris posted a few years back on some molds of a 1929 Harold Croft design, produced pre-WW2 by Modern Bond.  I had Tom make me a 4 cavity with a .32, a .38, a .44 and .45 version of those designs in one block.  I still like to cast with it.


The bullets also look like they would hold a lot of lube and be good candidates for paper cartridges.  I look forward to seeing your feedback in the future once you have received your mold and gave the bullets a try.

When I first bought my Armi Sport carbine, I couldn't get the chamber sleeve out.  So I had to buy one of the Pedersoli removal tools which worked great. It popped it right out.

The Charlie Hahn modification epoxies the chamber sleeve in place and only the rear 1/4" or so is removable.  He puts a standard O-ring from McMaster Carr between that and the epoxied chamber sleeve to create the gas seal.  He also permanently stakes the breech plate against the cone on the sliding breech block.  His design seems to work very well, as I did not notice any escaping gas from the breech block while firing my carbine.

That is very interesting that the original lock fit into your Shiloh carbine.  That Shiloh is the carbine I wanted, that or a Garrett carbine.  But the Armi Sport popped up at a reasonable price and I figured I could learn the ropes on it while waiting for a better carbine to become available.  But having spent a day shooting it, it is accurate and pleasant to shoot, I can't ask for more than that.

I had misremembered the name of the primer pellet system, I will have to correct my post.  That would be interesting if a fellow could figure out how to manufacture a workable primer pellet system for it today.

Congrats on the mold you chose.  I have quite a few Accurate Molds, they cast very well.

 

 

 

 

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GregT posted this 2 weeks ago

Good Sunday evening!

   Thank you, Hporter, for publishing the drawings of the two bullets I plan to use in the Model 1859 Sharps. This afternoon, I tried again to get the printer to cooperate and it would not give me a print command for the bullet drawings. So, I stood my old Olympus camera up on a miniature tripod and photographed the drawings on the screen of the computer. Worked perfect and now I have drawings I can work out dimensions on. Tom at Accurate told me how I could find the bullet's overall length on the drawings. One little dimension at the very end of the bullet..! Interesting that Mr. Hahn stakes the recoil plate permanently tight on the front of the breechblock so that it does not move! I want to free mine up a bit so that it can move forward so that it can seal when it runs into the face of the chamber sleeve when it moves and meets up with the recoil plate! As the plate is right now, it can be pried out of a clean breechblock  but not with any kind of ease. I had it out the other night just to look things over inside the block. Does Mr. Hahn offer any guidance as to how he cleans out the space in the block behind the recoil plate? Fortunately or not, the Sharps Model 1859 (and the NM 1863 carbine) are labor intensive when it comes to cleaning and I would think that the breechblock and assorted linkages should be kept almost antiseptically clean! How tight does it really have to be?

   Your comment on the grease grooves of both slugs was right on the nose! I like to have plenty of lube on the bullet that is contained within the grooves. The bullets have to have enough stored lube within their grooves to make the trip down the 30 inch barrel, also enough left in the bore to soften the blackpowder fouling that awaits the next firing. I use a blow tube in my cartridge Sharps rifles after each shot, and I also check the muzzle of the barrel after each shot with the tip of my thumb by turning it against the crown, looking for the customary grease ring that better be there!  Also, for what its worth, I bought my little New Model 1863 Shiloh Sharps .50 caliber carbine in 1976 or 77. I still have the original receipt and as I recall the price was less than $400.00! I also recall wondering how any soldier could get these Sharps percussion rifles to shoot in any amount of precipitation? The first year I owned it, I took it deer hunting here in Wisconsin. A snowstorm liquefied the powder in the carbine and put me totally out of action! My problem with these Sharps rifles is that I know about them, but I do not know how about them!

Greg T.

Hayward, Wisconsin

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hporter posted this 6 days ago

Greg,

Charlie's system uses a rubber o-ring between the chamber sleeve and a small machined insert that rides against the staked on breech block.  The rubber o-ring provides the "spring" action to seal the block.  It works very well, as I did not notice any gas escaping the breech.  I was going to photograph my rifle, but an image from Charlie's website shows it very well so I borrowed his image to show it here.

 

 

I have to admit that while I was cleaning the carbine after my afternoon of shooting, I was skeptical about not being able to clean behind the breech block face.  The first time I shot the rifle back in 2014, the cone area behind the removable plate was a mess of fouling. 

So I reached out to Charlie to ask, and he responded very quickly to my question with his procedure to clean the block. Which was more or less what I had done to clean it, except he advised to use aerosol brake cleaner and I had used Ballistol.  I had simply flushed out the block with Ballistol through the nipple, removed the nipple and cleanout screw and then rinsed everything in super hot water and used my air compressor to blow out all the water the best I could.  And then of course, to apply anti-seize to the nipple and cleanout screw upon reassembly.  I suppose the pressure of the aerosol brake cleaner may be more effective at moving the gunk out, than spraying the Ballistol through the squeeze spray bottle I have.  I will try the brake cleaner next time.

I am looking forward to your report on how your new cast bullets perform in your Sharps.  My Shiloh Sharps 45-70 and my original Trapdoor rifle both have long barrels, so I hear you on the lube capacity of the bullets using BP.

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longhunter posted this 5 days ago

I had a Sharps like yours.

The Thompson Center 54 maxi bullet worked great in my rifle.  I used both paper ctgs and loose powder.  Big lube grove for fouling control. Hot water and a few drops of dawn dish soap cleans black fowling up nicely.

Jon

Jon Welda CW5 USA Ret.

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GregT posted this 4 days ago

Good Morning! Thank you hporter and longhunter for your excellent posts! This morning I am attaching a photo (recovered from my computer crash!) of my Model 1859 Sharps with the chamber gas sleeve pulled out to its max so that those who have not seen one can see what has come up in conversation a few times. In reality, this sleeve "takes up headspace" between the recoil plate on the breech block (which is also trying to close headspace when the rifle fires. On the Civil War era rifles, this sleeve was allowed to rust in place and become not moveable, frozen, so to speak. Then as the gap between the recoil plate and the end of this gas sleeve opened thru use, more gas escaped. To stop this gas leak again, a device was pushed into the chamber and latched onto the front of the gas sleeve. Then a rod was inserted and pushed the gas sleeve tight against the recoil plate to again shut off the escaping gas. The sleeve stayed put, froze in place, and the process of using the rifle began again. If everything was in place, escaping gas stopped. How long this worked until the sleeve had to be adjusted again is anyone's guess. I'm not letting mine rust in place! Pedersoli no long makes the Model 1859 with the gas sleeve inserted in the chamber. Mine is now "rare" as are the original rifles made by Sharps during the Civil War having the sleeve. Here is the photo. I will try to figure out how to crop these down a bit.

GregT

Hayward, Wisconsin

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hporter posted this 4 days ago

Greg,


That is a good photo of the sleeve, thank you for sharing. 

Like I mentioned before, I had to purchase the Pedersoli sleeve removal tool to get mine out when I first purchased my Armi Sport. It was all kinds of "stuck".

Harold

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