Author Topic: covering the ball with powder  (Read 9314 times)

Mike R

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covering the ball with powder
« on: July 20, 2009, 03:55:32 PM »
somewhere in the last 4+/- years I read an article in either MuzzleBlasts or Muzzleloader mag about testing the old method of finding the right load for a rifle by pouring powder over a ball in your cupped hand.  This method is at least as old as the 1810 story I first read it in and lasted at least until the 1920s in the Ozarks.  I cannot find the referenced tests--does anyone have the reference?  I thought it was a Bevel Bros test, but I could not find it in my back issues.

Offline Roger Fisher

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Re: covering the ball with powder
« Reply #1 on: July 20, 2009, 04:41:34 PM »

The ML rifle is quite forgiving that way.  I always start a new barrel off using i.e 45 3f in a 45 cal at 25 yds and move up.  Also move up as I move out. til she peaks grp size.  Slow twist bores are more forgiving than are the fast twists....  several grains with the slow ones make little if any difference..  IMHO only
« Last Edit: July 20, 2009, 05:04:54 PM by Roger Fisher »

Mike R

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Re: covering the ball with powder
« Reply #2 on: July 20, 2009, 05:00:37 PM »
Oh, it definitely is NOT and old wives tale, I have found detailed references to it in old writings.  What I was looking for was the recent testing of the idea that indicated the method was not too far off.  The great observer Audubon describes covering the ball in the hand at least twice in his writings from the 1808-12 period.  Vance Randolph mentions it as still practiced inthe Ozarks in the 1920s and Horace Kephart describes its use in the Smokies in 1918.  I do not plan on loading this way, but just want to find a reference to the recent article.

Offline hanshi

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Re: covering the ball with powder
« Reply #3 on: July 20, 2009, 08:44:48 PM »
I've tried it before and found powder tends to stick to my sweaty little palms.   ;D
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roundball

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Re: covering the ball with powder
« Reply #4 on: July 20, 2009, 08:58:23 PM »
I've also seen many references to it over the years but they were probably all just Internet articles, not official historical documentation.

I can see how such a thing might come to be but it sure would be frought with variations, most significant would be is the palm held out open flat with the ball sitting up high in the middle.....to the other extreme of being significantly 'cupped' up around a ball.

The good news is that its a little something that can be experimented with in the garage...just try a few different "palm holds" and measure each time...be interesting to try just for the heck of it.

northmn

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Re: covering the ball with powder
« Reply #5 on: July 20, 2009, 09:31:18 PM »
About the best you can do is to try it.  It depends on a lot of things as in whether the hand is cupped for instance.  Geneally a 50 will cover with 50 grains. Its been around as a standard as long as I can remember.

DP

Mike R

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Re: covering the ball with powder
« Reply #6 on: July 20, 2009, 09:34:58 PM »
I've also seen many references to it over the years but they were probably all just Internet articles, not official historical documentation.

I can see how such a thing might come to be but it sure would be frought with variations, most significant would be is the palm held out open flat with the ball sitting up high in the middle.....to the other extreme of being significantly 'cupped' up around a ball.

The good news is that its a little something that can be experimented with in the garage...just try a few different "palm holds" and measure each time...be interesting to try just for the heck of it.

Yeah, as it has already been tested I was looking for the reference rather than reinventing the wheel.  The article did address different hand sizes and 'cupping' positions.  One old reference [Kephart, 1918] says use a flat palm, not cupped!   Tonight, if I have the time, I might try a reverse experiment and pour the measured loads from a variety of calibers of my rifles over their proper ball and see if it covers or overcovers, etc...

northwoodsdave

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Re: covering the ball with powder
« Reply #7 on: July 20, 2009, 10:28:56 PM »
As for measuring with the palm, that has been around for centuries.  My wife, her mother and her grandmother (and who knows how many generations before them) never used teaspoon or tablespoon measures, instead pouring ground herbs or salt  into a slightly cupped hand. They had done this so long they knew exactly what these measures looked like.   I actually tested them and found their accuracy (even for a half teaspoon or other partial measure) to be quite accurate!

I can still measure with my palm, for both teaspoons and tablespoons while cooking (granular dry things only, please!).  I'll give the powder-on-the-ball thing a try and get back with the results!

Dave

roundball

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Re: covering the ball with powder
« Reply #8 on: July 20, 2009, 10:34:10 PM »
"...a reverse experiment and pour the measured loads from a variety of calibers of my rifles over their proper ball..."

Excellent idea / approach

Offline Dphariss

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Re: covering the ball with powder
« Reply #9 on: July 21, 2009, 01:27:02 AM »
I suspect it was a way to get an initial load, a way to get a volume to make a measure from.
Trying to load a rifle this way would be a PITA. Pouring powder out of the hand and into a 36 or 32 for example.
It also varies depending on how the had it held flat or cupped.
Dan
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Daryl

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Re: covering the ball with powder
« Reply #10 on: July 21, 2009, 02:49:35 AM »
Seems to me that Ned R. mentioned this method as a 'standard' starting load, not that is was the 'proper' load for that rifle. We all know the rifle will tell you what it wants in how well it shoots.

Offline rsells

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Re: covering the ball with powder
« Reply #11 on: July 21, 2009, 06:31:53 AM »
I don't have any documentation, but two older gentlemen that were shooting with our club when I first started shooting in 1972 used and preached this procedure for figuing the correct powder charge for their rifles.  They would not change no matter how much grief they got from younger shooters.  They still used the procedure until  they passed away.  Oh yes, they had their rifles shooting great.  I never knew what they were doing as far as patch material and thickness, but one used spit to lubricate his patch, and the other used some mixture of whale oil (not sure where he got his container of oil).
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Offline Randy Hedden

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Re: covering the ball with powder
« Reply #12 on: July 21, 2009, 06:44:43 AM »
Mike R,

Karl Koster has mentioned this palming the bullet and powder several times.  He probably wrote about it in the "On The Trail" magazine.

Randy Hedden
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northmn

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Re: covering the ball with powder
« Reply #13 on: July 21, 2009, 03:05:26 PM »
Daryl is likely correct in that it was a way to find a starting load.  Also remember that ML's are not all that fussy when it comes to finding a load that shoots pretty good.  While they do have a "best" load they can be pretty accurate with variations.  Early shooters geneerally had no way of measuring grains and had to use some form of measurement.  Original powder measures have been found to have moderate capacities, which may suggest this method was used to make a measure.  GG Gramdad did not likely benchrest his loads much in those days either.

DP

Mike R

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Re: covering the ball with powder
« Reply #14 on: July 21, 2009, 03:08:53 PM »
Still have not found the article, but last evening I did some simple tests--certainly not the final word and not trying to control all variables, but:   Some reports have it that the powder was poured over the ball in a cupped hand [leading to variable hand size problems]--however Horace Kephart in 1918 [Outing Mag] reported that a FLAT palm was used and Audubon's 1810 description just says that the ball was laid in the palm and covered.  So I did the reverse experiment and placed a ball from three calibers [one at a time] of mine, a .440, .490 and .530 in both cupped hand and open flat palm and covered them with the measured fffg loads I use for hunting for each [65 gr for .45, 75 gr for .50 and 85 gr for .54].  In all cases in the cupped hand the amount was "too much", that is overcovered the ball---so, if I had "just covered" each of these the charge would have been lighter than my standard hunting load, though possibly adequate as a close range target load [need to check].  However, in the flat palm, the charges appeared to "just cover" the three ball sizes--that is, such a measure would work for me in those three calibers.  Consistency and spillage are two variables that come to mind.  The old time cooks did very often use a cupped hand to measure ingredients quite successfully and I expect after a time a muzzleloader would be able to "eyeball' a proper load.  Whatever we think of this method, it has been reported in period writings as a standard way the old timers loaded.  It has in more recent writings been relagated to a "first try" method to get close to a load which thereafter is charged with a horn, antler or brass charger. Speed loading methods in the heat of battle or the chase often used "less optimum" methods such as spitting a bare ball down the barrel on a guessed charge dumped in from the hand or horn.  I am still looking for the article I first asked about as it is a summary of a more extensive examination of covering the ball....
« Last Edit: July 21, 2009, 03:41:45 PM by Mike R »

northmn

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Re: covering the ball with powder
« Reply #15 on: July 21, 2009, 05:06:02 PM »
Zane Gray in his books about Lew Wetzel described Wetzel as pouring powder in his hand and eyeing it before loading the rifle, and then driving a tack at 100 yards or so.  While Gray is used a great deal of literary license, mention does go back to his time.  Where did Gray get his info??

DP

Mike R

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Re: covering the ball with powder
« Reply #16 on: July 21, 2009, 05:12:23 PM »
Zane Gray in his books about Lew Wetzel described Wetzel as pouring powder in his hand and eyeing it before loading the rifle, and then driving a tack at 100 yards or so.  While Gray is used a great deal of literary license, mention does go back to his time.  Where did Gray get his info??

DP

Grey's ancestors were pioneers, maybe family history, but it was common knowledge in the early 20th cent among back woods types. the oldest dated reference I have seen to this type loading is 1810.  If you are referring to the Wetzel example per se, I don't know.  I am sure the technique goes back into the 1700s.

Offline Larry Pletcher

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Re: covering the ball with powder
« Reply #17 on: July 21, 2009, 05:23:55 PM »
I know I have too much time on my hands.  I'm in a recliner with my knee wrapped up and covered with ice.  I read this topic and wondered what the charge measured in the palm would be in a measure from today.  So, having nothing better to do I calculated the volume of a cone and the volume of a ball that fit inside the cone.  I subtracted the ball's volume from that of the cone.  I converted this amount to a cylinder the size of my powder measure. 

Don't misunderstand.  This is the work of a bored shooter with nothing but time and too much ice and ace wraps to do much of anything else.  The right hand column represents the amount of powder in grains that would cover a ball based on geometry - no real world here!


Caliber   Charge (grains)
------------------------
25----------- 6
32-----------12
36-----------18
40-----------24
45-----------34
50-----------47
54-----------59
58-----------74
60-----------81

There are too many variables in this to mean much.  It may give a very general indication about what a early shooter thought was a starting load.  One interesting thing is that the volume of the ball is about 25% of the space in the cone that holds it.

This and 50 cents might buy you a coke,
Pletch
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BrownBear

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Re: covering the ball with powder
« Reply #18 on: July 21, 2009, 05:48:27 PM »
I've followed this principle for many years for one simple reason:  I forget stuff.  And I lose stuff.  All the time.  Can't tell you how many times I've got to the range or even on hunts without a powder measure.  I've even had the darned things disappear on hunts when they were tied to my bag or horn!  Just happens.  

The old cover-the-ball-in-your-hand trick is close enough to get you back to shooting.  I verify it with my measure and practice a little to find out how much to cup my hand.  But for most of the calibers I shoot I can come pretty close to a plinking/small game load with a single "handful" and a good stout hunting load with a double.  Maybe not exactly what range testing has shown to be the ultimate for a particular rifle, but close enough for government work.

Kinda "handy" to know when you think about it.
« Last Edit: July 21, 2009, 05:49:51 PM by BrownBear »

Daryl

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Re: covering the ball with powder
« Reply #19 on: July 21, 2009, 06:10:34 PM »
Well, you got me curious - slightly cupped palm - .395" = 35gr.; .445" = 40gr.; .562" - 47gr.; .675" = 75gr.  Wayyyyy too light for anything but very close range plinking. All measured with 2f GOEX poured from a small diameter spout on my big horn.
The .40 likes 60gr. 2F during the summer, .45 likes 80gr. 2F, the .58 likes 75gr. 2F and the .69 likes 82gr. for out to 40/50 yards and 140gr. up to 165gr. for farther shooting.

Offline Larry Pletcher

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Re: covering the ball with powder
« Reply #20 on: July 21, 2009, 07:07:27 PM »
Daryl,
I'm used to the grain per caliber starting point, unless I have previous experience.  This topic is unlikely to change my thinking - especially under 50 caliber.  As you say these numbers seem pretty light for a starting point.  It was kind of fun to try, and I have little else to do.

Regards,
Pletch
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Pletch
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Mike R

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Re: covering the ball with powder
« Reply #21 on: July 21, 2009, 07:41:08 PM »
Larry, your method appears to not take into account the angle of repose of BP grains and perhaps not the flat vs cupped surface.  When I did my little informal test, I got light loads with a cupped hand but good loads with a flat hand--I suspect the cone of powder [fffg] in reality was of different angle than the theoretical smallest cone--and also it is somewhat subjective the term "just covered".

BrownBear

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Re: covering the ball with powder
« Reply #22 on: July 21, 2009, 08:05:28 PM »
Here's a related, but distracting, twist on the original concept.

Anyone know or watch a good professional bartender?  They can pour perfect shots just by counting the "glugs" when they tip a bottle.  

I can't imagine any of the original users of muzzleloaders taking time to use a measure every single time, whether palm or accessory, for fast reloads.  

No documentation to back that theory, but has anyone ever played with simply "timing" their pours from a horn to achieve a particular volume of powder.  I'm not saying pouring it straight down the bore, for safety reasons.  But by look, timing or feel, it makes sense to me that folks would be doing it this way.
« Last Edit: July 21, 2009, 08:06:31 PM by BrownBear »

Offline Larry Pletcher

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Re: covering the ball with powder
« Reply #23 on: July 21, 2009, 08:12:29 PM »
Larry, your method appears to not take into account the angle of repose of BP grains and perhaps not the flat vs cupped surface.  When I did my little informal test, I got light loads with a cupped hand but good loads with a flat hand--I suspect the cone of powder [fffg] in reality was of different angle than the theoretical smallest cone--and also it is somewhat subjective the term "just covered".

Quite right Mike,
This is based purely on volume.  no attempt to consider anything else.  Based on the volume of one geometric shape subtracted from another.  No thought was given to grain size, open or closed palm.  I guess it was just an excercise  to cure a moment of boredom.  The good news for today is that the pain meds are doing fine.
Pletch
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Pletch
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He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what can never be taken away.

Kayla Mueller - I didn't come here of my own accord, and I can't leave that way.  Whoever brought me here, will have to take me home.

Mike R

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Re: covering the ball with powder
« Reply #24 on: July 21, 2009, 09:26:30 PM »
Here's a related, but distracting, twist on the original concept.

Anyone know or watch a good professional bartender?  They can pour perfect shots just by counting the "glugs" when they tip a bottle.  

I can't imagine any of the original users of muzzleloaders taking time to use a measure every single time, whether palm or accessory, for fast reloads.  

No documentation to back that theory, but has anyone ever played with simply "timing" their pours from a horn to achieve a particular volume of powder.  I'm not saying pouring it straight down the bore, for safety reasons.  But by look, timing or feel, it makes sense to me that folks would be doing it this way.


in fact there are first hand accounts of speed reloads in which bare [wet] ball and unmeasured handful of powder were used.
« Last Edit: July 21, 2009, 09:26:59 PM by Mike R »