Nitrating paper is done just like it was in the old days:
Make up a saturated "syrupy" solution of potassium nitrate (KNO3) salts, wet the paper in this, drain, and let air-dry. Use a plastic mesh screen (strawberry or tomato trays work good) to help speed up the drying.
I use an onionskin type paper. Cigaret paper is okay, but not very strong.
You can buy potassium nitrate from scientific chemical supply houses, or your local high school science supply store. Technical grade is fine. Pharmacy grade is more expensive.
I've made authentic-LOOKING paper cartridges to keep in the belt pouch and they work fine. If done properly, with good porous paper, they burn completely and leave no residue to hinder reloads.
Those old nitrated paper cartridges (bullet glued or tied in place with a small string) were not very durable, and neither are the modern copies. They are mostly for looking at, and duplicate the look and feel (and yes, the nostalgia for the old days) of Civil-War era ammunition.
As I understand it, the serious Old West cap lock revolver shooters kept loaded, capped cylinders in pouches on the belt, and relied on a fast cylinder change to stay shooting. An old tech column response in the American Rifleman advised against that because spare cylinders have been known to discharge, and with apparent bad results for the shooter or someone near him.
Aloha ButlerFord! Quite a few C&B shooters, me included, use cigarette rolling paper to make our cartridges. Some ram the whole thing in the chambers and some of us tear off the end to empty the powder then ram the ball home over the wadded paper.
Cigarette rolling papers are already slightly nitrated and can be had by bulk from any online smokeshop. I use Bugler. One box has over 2,000 papers. You only need one paper per cartridge, so that's a lifetime's worth of paper for some.
I use a 3/8" dowel wrapped 1 1/2 times with wide masking tape to get the proper diameter for the 44 cal. round ball. You may have to experiment with the diameter depending on who made the dowel. Wrap one rolling paper around the dowel, glue side down and facing inside the tube. Run a bead of Elmer's glue on the loose end and seal. Slide the tube up so that it extends about 3/8's of an inch past the dowel end. Run a bead of glue on the inside and place a round ball in. Press around the ball lightly with your fingers and place in a loading tray to dry. About 5 minutes. Now you have an empty paper cartridge.
Now load all the tubes with your favorite load of BP. Use a dampened
q-tip to moisten the glue and press to seal. When ready to load, just tear off the glued end with your teeth, pour the powder into the chamber, crimp the paper and shove everything in over the powder. The paper acts like a wad. Ram the ball home and you're ready to go.
Some load the whole thing and use a nipple pick to poke a hole in the end of the cartridge to assure free access for the cap sparks. Some don't. Your choice.
No, gun cotton was an early explosive discovered in the mid-1800's by Eropean chemists. Basically, it was nitric acid treated cotton fibers (nitrocelluose fiber).
Nitrated paper, on the other hand is thin paper treated to make it more flammable, and is done by soaking tissue paper with potassium nitrate (salt). The flammable paper is used to hold black gunpowder charges in cartridge form for muzzleloading rifles and cap and ball pistols.
I started with a 1/2 inch dowel, chucked it in a drill press, and used a combination of a rasps and sandpaper to form a long, smooth taper with the small end about 1/4 inch. Trial and error showed me where to put the top of the cigarette paper so the the ball would fit in nicely, and I carved a notch to permanently mark it.
The nice thing about the taper is that it makes it much easier to slide the cartridge into the chamber and ram the ball down. I then poke through the nipple with a large needle that I dulled the point on, to ensure ignition.
I am currently experimenting with dipping the bullet end of the cartridge into molten beeswax, to provide a lubricant. I don't have that worked out entirely yet, but it looks promising. If nothing else, it secures the ball in the cartridge.
I stole an idea from JT Edson (yeah. the writer of strange westerns) for increasing the durability of my cartridges. I cut a piece of aluminum foil about 3 inches by 5 inches, and lay either 5 or 6 rounds side by side on the foil, then wrap them. The resultant rectangular package is durable enough that I can carry about 40 in a belt pouch without any problems, and it is easy to open the packet and pull out the cartridges. If you're a cheapskate like me, you can even recycle the foil by refolding it carefully.
Interestingly enough, when Samuel Colt first offered prepared cartridges for his cap and ball revolvers, he used foil and not paper!
From "A History of the Colt Revolver From 1836 to 1940" by Charles Haven and Frank Belden ...
"The paper cartridges used with Colt revolvers were developed during the middle to late 1850s. At first made of metal foil, they were improved until they consisted of a bullet to the base of which was attached a charge of powder contained in an envelope made either of goldbeater's skin or of paper impregnated with saltpeter so that it would be consumed by the fire of the discharge.
"Some of the English skin cartridges, and the early American foil cartridges, were contained in another wrapper of heavy paper, which was torn off to load the cartridges into the revolver.
"The latest American way of putting them up was in boxes containing the right number for one load of the cylinder of the model that the cartridges were made for. These boxes were a block of wood bored with hole for the cartridges, wrapped in paper and varnished to keep out moisture.
"A string or wire running around the outside of the block but inside the paper was pulled to tear the paper and open the box. Some of the cartridges were put up in cardboard boxes with all the cartridges together in one compartment, but this system was not as good as the wood block boxes because the cartridges were apt to be damaged by striking together in the box while they were being carried.
"Colt, in conjunction with Colonel Hazard, who made Hazard's Powder, made cartridges at the Colt Cartridge Works, which was a part of the Colt factory, bu some distance from the other buildings, for safety.
"They were also put up by a number of other makers, among them Eley of London, D.C. Sage of Middletown, Connecticut, and Robert Chadwick of Hartford, Connecticut."
An 1867 flyer distributed by Colt lists the cost of paper cartridges, in amounts of 1,200:
36-100ths of an inch Calibre ... $18.00
44-100ths of an inch Calibre ... $22.00
This book also shows, on page 116, boxes of combustible cartridges of .31, .36 and .44 caliber.
The authors note, "Colt appears to have commenced the manufacture of combustible envelope catridges of metal foil circa 1856 ... Apparently, the use of cartridges with cap and ball revolvers was not widespread until after 1860."
Interestingly, the book also contains the reprint of an article that appeared in "United States" magazine in March, 1857. In that article, the author writes:
"Another of the numerous inventions of Colonel Colt is the Metallic Foil Cartridge, a contrivance that always insures dry powder to the possessor.
Tin foil, cut in the required shape, is formed in an inverted cone, which is charged with gunpowder. The ball is oval, with a flat end, to receive the edge of the foil.
"On the cone and ball being brought together, the joint is closed by pressure. They are then inclosed (sic) in paper wrappers, so arranged that this covering can be instantly removed when the cartridge is about to be used.
"The whole operation is completed so perfectly that the cartridge is entirely impervious to water, as by experiment they have repeatedly been fired after having been immersed for hours.
"Owing to the peculiar shape of the bore of the nipple in Colt's firearms, the fire from the percussion caps readily penetrates the foil, without pricking.
"They are manufactured in a building ... about half a mile south of the armory. Nearly the whole labor here is performed by females, about 30 of whom were at work during our visit."
I don't understand the "peculiar shape of the bore of the nipple" the author refers to. I have seen old, original Colt nipples and they had round holes in the nipple. Perhaps someone else can explain.
Somewhere I read, and not too long ago, that Samuel Colt was dissatisifed with the quality of the foil made in America, which he used in his combustible cartridges.
It seems that the American foil had too many fine holes in it, from which powder leaked. So, at greater expense he obtained foil made in Germany, which was said to be of highest quality. The problem was solved.
I wish I could find where I read that. I'll keep looking.
Frankly, the prospect of making cartridges from foil intrigues me. In Sam Colt's day, it would have been TRUE tin-foil, made of tin.
Today, our tinfoil is usually aluminum. I wonder how well aluminum foil would work?
Anyone know of a source of REAL tin-foil, sufficiently thin to be easily pierced by the flame of a cap?
Sounds like a good, little project here.
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