If you’ve reloaded center-fire cartridges and loaded a cap and ball revolver – you’ve undoubtedly recognized the processes have numerous similarities.  Loading a center-fire cartridge involves preparing a case, seating a primer, throwing a powder charge, seating a bullet and applying a crimp.  If you’re unfamiliar with the center-fire cartridge loading process the Hornady Handbook of Cartridge Reloading Volume I provides an excellent overview. Loading a cap and ball revolver involves many of the same steps with a few obvious differences.

Loading a cap and ball revolver, such as Uberti’s reproduction Colt 1860 Army, requires adherence to safety standards, attention to detail and proper component selection – no different than loading center-fire cartridges.

So, before taking you’re revolver to the range read all the manufactures included literature.  Learn the safety aspects, nomenclature, operation, disassembly, reassembly…  If you’re familiar with the basics you’re less apt to make a mistake. 

An obvious difference in the loading process is the cap and ball revolver requires no case.  Treat the cylinder’s six chambers as you would a center-fire case.  Insure the cylinder is clean (initially) and the flash holes – the nipple – is free of obstruction.  One way to check is to place the hammer at half cock so the cylinder rotates freely and line each nipple up with the grove on the right side of frame and if the flash hole is unobstructed you’ll see daylight.  You must do this after each firing. 

The next step is to charge each of the six chambers with black powder or an approved black power substitute of the proper volume.

Note – black powder and black powder substitutes are measured by volume not by weight. 

For the Uberti 1860 Army I prefer a 30 – 35 grain (by volume) charge of Pydrodex “P”.  I selected Pyrodex “P” for this application because Pyrodex is available through my local sporting goods store, it’s fairly inexpensive and relatively non-corrosive.  With the hammer at half cock so the cylinder rotates freely, charge each chamber with powder.  I prefer to use a Colt style flask because they are easy to operate, throw a very consistent powder charge and a wide range of spouts are available (15 – 75 grains).  After placing the powder in each chamber, check to see if powder charge is approximately the same level in each chamber.  Like reloading center-fire cartridges, consistency is the key to accuracy.

After charging each chamber with powder, I place a lubricated felt wad over the powder charge.  This is optional.  The tests I’ve done to date indicate an over powder wad improves accuracy.  The lubricated wad may remove some of the fouling, may soften the remaining fouling and may limit projectile deformation.  The decision to use an over powder wad is entirely a mater of personal preference. 

Now you’re ready for a round ball.  Select a round ball of diameter two - four thousands larger than the diameter of the chamber.  For the Ubeti 1860 Army, a Hornady .454 round ball works perfectly. Place the round ball over the powder, rotate the chamber under the loading lever and seat the ball so the ball is below the level of the chamber.  If the ball is not seated below the level of chamber mouth the cylinder will not rotate.  Seating the ball will create a uniform ring of lead shaved from the ball as the ball is pushed into the chamber.  This is very important because the shaved ring of lead insures the chamber is firmly holding the ball at the seated depth and there is no gap between the ball and chamber wall that might allow a spark to enter and ignite the powder charge.  Seat each ball to the same depth.  Once again consistency is the key to accuracy.

Once each ball is seated, place a sufficient quantity of lube over each ball to at least fill the void between the radius of the ball and the chamber wall.  It is not necessary to level the chamber mouth with lube.  Selecting the right lube depends mainly on environmental factors.  If it’s hot, above 70 degrees F, you’ll need a thicker lube - like the PREMIUM LUBE BULLET STICK By Eastern Main.  If it’s cold, below 32 Degrees F, you’ll need something thinner - like Eastern Maine Premium Bullet Lube.  In between, try both and see which one works best for you. Using the proper lube and Pryodex “P”, the Uberi 1860 Army can fire 48 – 72 shots before cleaning is required.  With no lube the action may become inoperable in as few as 18 shots.

Now that the each of the cylinder’s six chambers is charged with an appropriate volume of powder, contains a wad (optional), a seated ball and lube, a cap is required.  Safety, Safety, Safety – Installing the cap is like installing the fuse in the bomb.  Make sure you have the proper size cap.   I find it best to replace the stock nipples with an Ampco nipple set because the Ampco nipple is exactly the right size for a #11 cap.  I also use a Ted Cash Universal capper because it fits the 1860 Army, is easy to operate and holds 100 #11 caps.  Make sure the cap is properly seated on the nipple.  If the cap is not properly seated on the nipple, the cap will contact the frame making it impossible to rotate the cylinder.  After carefully placing a cap on each nipple very carefully lower the hammer onto a pin located between each chamber. Loaded – you’re ready to approach the line. Now the fun begins.

Warren K. Mayes
Technical Advisor, The Possible Shop