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Black Powder Express reloaders?

Discussion in 'Shooting Related Threads' started by Sam Ogle, Oct 14, 2009.

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  1. Sam Ogle

    Sam Ogle Member

    Dec 13, 2006
    I am in the process of a new adventure; reloading an old .450 3 1/4" black powder express double rifle, and need help from someone who knows about the ins and outs.
    Anyone out there who owns and reloads one?

    Sam Ogle, Lincoln, NE
  2. hoffman06

    hoffman06 Member

    May 6, 2009
    Marcola Oregon
    Sam I have several Shiloh sharps and shoot all of them. Have 2 in 45/120 and the ctgs load the same as your express loads. Give me a call at 208/476/7480 Pacific time and I think I can help.
  3. webley

    webley TS Member

    Jan 29, 1998

    I don’t know about the loads Cary uses but generally speaking the loading requirements for a something like a 45-120 Sharps single shot are not the same as for a BP express double rifle.

    I’ve had/have a couple of .450’s plus other BP Express double rifles in .500 & .577 as well as nitro-express double rifles. They are a delight to load for & shoot but they do need some enjoyable work to get them started. I also shoot an original British falling block rifle in .45x2.4”.

    I’ve seen some total wrecks passed off as desirable double rifles by US based dealers – I assume yours does not fall into this category. It’s worth bearing in mind that an original .450x3-1/4” cartridge had a working pressure (not proof pressure) of 11 to 12 tons/sq” compared to a typical shotgun cartridge having a working pressure of around 3 tons/sq” (using similar systems of pressure testing). Double rifles can’t be ‘loaded down’ as anything other than bullet weights & velocities similar to originally used will normally cause the barrels to not regulate (i.e. they will cross-shoot or shoot apart).

    Having said that, loading is not difficult – it’s largely a matter of obtaining the right components.

    Cases: Thankfully these are relatively easily available, as are reloading dies (at a price).

    Primers: There are all sorts of theories as to which type of primer is best. Any large rifle primer will be fine; there’s no need to use magnum ones for BP.

    Bullets: The odds are your rifle will have been regulated for the two standard .450x3-1/4” BP loads. I’m a long way from my library at the moment so I’m working from memory but one load used a 270 grain hollow point bullet, whilst the other used something like a 340 grain solid bullet. Actually the bullets were cast from the same mould supplied with each rifle but the solid one didn’t use the hollow point ‘plug’. The original BP loads used paper patched bullets but you could use lube-groove bullets if you wish.

    I could write at length about bullet diameter & rifling etc but briefly:- Your rifle will probably have either ‘normal’ rifling or ‘Henry’ rifling. If it’s ‘normal’ rifling & if you are going to use lube-groove bullets then as a starting point, size your bullets to match the groove diameter (this is common practice for this type of rifling in any gun). Do not do this with Henry rifling though! The difference between bore & groove diameters for Henry rifling is far greater than for normal rifling. Contrary to what is sometimes written this does not mean Henry groove diameters are oversize – Henry rifling is essentially polygonal (with the addition of small ribs in the grooves) & so the groove diameter is a geometrical function. Think of it as the difference between the ‘across flats’ measurement of a hexagonal bolt head compared to the ‘across corners’ dimension. With Henry rifling the groove diameter (i.e. across corners) is dictated by the bore diameter (i.e. across flats) & the number of sides of the polygon. I stress this point because even in the book I recommend below, phrases like ‘oversize grooves’ are used in relation to Henry rifling – they are not oversize in reality. What follows from that are misguided attempts to match bullet diameter to Henry rifling groove size (as would be done for ‘normal’ rifling) – the common result of this is to use a bullet so large the loaded round won’t chamber – the temptation then is to criminally enlarge the chamber! Henry rifling was intended to be used with paper patched bullets of bore size or just over bore size; lube-grooved bullets can be successfully used as well but not ‘groove’ sized ones. For lube-groove bullets in Henry rifling start off at about 0.009” over bore diameter & move up or down a few thou’ from that.

    For both types of rifling, ensure the loaded round chambers easily – bore/chamber diameter relationship for patched bullets was not always what we’d now expect to see for grooved/lubed bullets which can mean people try to force oversize bullets into chambers.

    As far as bullet weigh is concerned, pick a bullet around 330 to 340 grains. Lead with 2% of tin is a good starting point.

    Powder: The C&H powder (or similar) originally used was a stronger powder than what’s currently available – the nearest to it is Swiss No.4 (that’s not 4Fg it’s more like 2FG or 1-1/2FG & I think is labeled as 1-1/2 FG in the US to avoid confusion). You may find that you need more than 120 grains (if you can get it in the case). I needed more like 125 grains which required a long drop tube & two stage compaction. In my rifle less powder gave too low a velocity & caused my rifle to cross-shoot.

    Wads: You’ll be pushed for space so may have to settle for a hard card wad (1/16” thick); if I have enough space I try to include a thin lubricated wad as well separated by thin polythene wads.

    When working up a load you’ll find that as long as you use a bullet in the right weight range & powder of the correct grade then the chronograph will tell you how close you are to the correct load. In other words you need to be seeing velocities within a couple of hundred fps of the original load (lower – not higher) before you’ll be anywhere near getting the barrels to shoot together. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to exceed the original BP velocities with modern cases & powder – don’t exceed them by any appreciable amount anyway! Don’t judge pressure by sticky extraction or by looking at the primers as you’ll have exceeded the normal working pressure before you see any change.

    It could be worth working up a load which has some degree of accuracy using one barrel & then adjust it for regulation using both barrels.

    Although recreation of the original loads is best it’s not unknown for a rifle to ‘regulate’ with different combinations such as a slightly heavier bullet & a lower velocity. For a first try – the original loads are the best guide though.

    The best book to get is ‘Shooting the British Double Rifle’ by Graeme Wright. DON'T do what he did & open up a chamber to get round his own laziness regarding not wanting to use patched bullets though!

    There’s an internet forum called ‘nitro-express’ which is applicable & worth a look.

    I hope you won’t mind me repeating again, please ensure your rifle is in good shootable condition as I’ve seen so many wrecks pass through the UK to US dealers.


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