Post Modern Muzzle-Loader

OK, I’m told my last post was entirely too sensible, and that I need to write something ridiculous before people started thinking I’d hired a ghost-writer or been replaced by an alien pod. You’re going to have to bear with me on this one, we’re not getting straight to the point.

The S&W #1 revolver, the first real commercial cartridge revolver

In 1859 Smith & Wesson introduced the first of their cartridge revolvers. It’s mechanism was a bit awkward and it was only fast to reload compared to percussion revolvers. It was chambered in .22 Rim Fire (what we now call .22 Short) and was far from a power-house… but it caught on because reloading was faster and easier than previous front-loaders.

S&W .32 Army revolver, a scaled-up version of the #1 revolver, and quite an improvement in power.

The lack of power was addressed, uh, sort of, with the introduction of the #2 Army revolver, which naturally was never adopted by any army anywhere, chambered in .32 Rim Fire. Still not awfully powerful but worlds better than .22 RF. This cartridge is where our story begins.

Once S&Ws monopoly patent on the bored-through cylinder expired every Tom, Dick and Harry jumped on the band wagon and started making small revolvers, and many of them chambered .32 RF or .32 Short RF. Rimfire cartridges have their limitations, and they were supplanted by center-fire cartridges pretty quickly, but there are still a lot of .32 RF revolvers and ‘Squirrel Guns’ around from it’s very brief heyday.

Some of these guns are quite interesting, like the Remington ring-trigger pocket revolver, but I have avoided them. I like to shoot my guns, and production of .32 Rimfire ammo had almost entirely ceased by the time I was born. Short runs and special production runs have occurred but for the most part it simply can’t be had.

The I saw that someone had figured out a way…

These Dixie Gunworks shells are made to be used in .32 RF guns.

Several makers created cartridge cases that are bored to accept a .22 Blank, mostly set off-center so that when placed in the breech or cylinder correctly the firing pin will strike the edge of the rimfire blank and fire it. You can load a blank, add some black powder and a ball or heel-base bullet up front and fire your gun to your hearts content. Of course if the cartridge isn’t aligned correctly the firing pin won’t hit the blank. It’s a bit of a pain in the butt, but it’s doable. Not inexpensive , either.

The next refinement I saw was the same idea, but instead of a .22 Crimp Blank with black powder you use a nail-gun Powder Actuator, which is really just a powerful .22 rimfire blank. You don’t deal with powder at all; the blank is sufficient to propel a bullet at useful velocity. OK, it’s easier but it’s still expensive, so I won’t be rushing out to buy me a .32 RF any time soon… but it got me thinking. In this day of ammunition and primer shortages could you adapt this to a more modern firearm?

In short- yes. but it would need to be a revolver and it would still probably be more trouble than it was worth… but what about a single-shot pistol? You know a nail-gun blank will propel a .32 bullet at useful velocity from the modified .32 RF cartridges. Why not in a muzzle-loader? It would be useful for small game, and Nail-Gun blanks are not in particularly short supply, and making a single-shot pistol is something I know how to do…

Yeah, I did it. Some sawing, a bit of grinding, some silver-soldering and threading and… OK, it should be simple enough. Of course what should be and what actually happens, in the immortal words of Jane Cobb, ‘…ain’t never but similar.’

The mechanism could hardly be simpler… *JAWS theme plays in the background*

This is well-travelled territory for me, so it went surprisingly quickly… until it didn’t. Where it didn’t was achieving the right balance of springs and firing-pin location and shape to reliably detonate the blank. That took all bloody day and then some. Finally it was firing the blank, fist-time, every time. *whew!*

The functional (but very much unfinished) muzzle-loading .32,
Bullet in one end, Powder Actuator in the other. Easy Peasy.

So, to load one stuffs a bullet in the muzzle and uses a ramrod to force it as deep as it will go. Since this bore is .320 rather than the typical .312 used in .32’s this is not exceptionally difficult; it’s tight, but you needn’t hammer it in.

Once this is done you cock the pistol t the first notch, release the catch on the side and tilt the barrel up. Put the Powder Actuator in the breech, close and latch it and you are ready to go. Simply cock the hammer, aim and fire.

The blanks come in strengths from 1-5, and i started right in the middle with number 3s. I have to confess I had my doubts, but it worked a treat! It went bang like a gun, recoiled like a gun and put a bullet into ordinance gel like a gun. Success! It works just as it should.

So how powerful it it? Well, the #3 blank propelled a 100gr LSWC at sufficient speed to penetrate 10.5 inches, and a 60gr, bullet 13-1/2″ deep. Reasonable and comparable to factory .32 S&W Long ammunition. Later I’ll break out the chronograph and see what’s what, and perhaps try it with a #4 blank.

I am aware of course that I haven’t actually accomplished anything particularly useful; neither I nor anyone else needs such a contraption. But then it’s not always about ‘need,’ is it? It’s fun, and that’s all it needs to be.

Now that I have proven the concept I’ll finish the gun nicely, add some sights and grip panels. There’s no hurry of course; I’ve got blog-posts starting to back up… anyway, rest assured I’ll keep you posted as things progress.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 22 February 2021

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5 thoughts on “Post Modern Muzzle-Loader

  1. Brett

    Powerloads can be very high pressure depending on the power level. They work via High/low pressure, meaning that the cartridge goes off and sends its gases into a secondary chamber where they push a piston (and hence, the nail or stud). Pressure can be extremely high and yet it falls off rapidly in the secondary chamber. The case that is used is the same as a .22 cartridge. I would advise against what you are doing.

    1. tinker1066 Post author

      I appreciate your concern, Brett. I’m following the established practice of using these loads in the aforementioned cartridges in antique firearms, which has proven safe in practice. I have used materials that are significantly stronger than those antiques as well. I also have an unusual degree of knowledge and experience regarding metallurgy and making firearms, as well as the means to test this gun in reasonable safety.

      But, having done so, there is no reason to pursue this further. I wondered if it would work, and it does. I’ll finish the gun and perhaps do some very limited testing in controlled conditions. Following that it will be relegated to the status of a conversation piece. This gun certainly doesn’t do anything better than a conventional firearm, and is in most ways inferior. I cannot see any compelling reason for anyone to follow in my footsteps to build their own, and would advise against it.

  2. Massimo Rovini

    bellissima so di chiedere troppo non pui mandarmi delle bozze di disegno mi piacerebbe farne una ma più compatta ciao

    1. tinker1066 Post author

      Massimo- I would, but such plans do not exist; I pretty much made it up as I went along. The mechanism itself is simple enough; I’ll email you and can perhaps provide photos or other information to assist you.

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