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Old 18th September 2014, 02:28 PM   #1
CutlassCollector
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Default Loaded Flintlock - problem or not?

I recently purchased a flintlock sea service pistol which I found is still loaded. I usually stick to edged weapons so I am unsure about this.
I doubt that it is still possible to discharge after all this time but I'd rather be safe than sorry.
So how frequent does this happen and what is the normal procedure? How do you remove the charge, the top wad came out easy but the ball seems firmly stuck. What is the best way to unload?
Any advice appreciated. Thanks.
CC
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Old 18th September 2014, 06:50 PM   #2
Ken Maddock
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Hi
This has happened to me twice
My method of extracting ball same in both cases
I got a coarse threaded screw and sharpened the tip
Welded this onto a steel rod and once I had the rod far enough in to engage the ball then I bent it at 90 degrees so I could rotate rod and drive it into the lead ball
This worked fine both times
With the Brown Bess with a long barel the ball came out and I then scraped what was behind out and put a match to it
It flared up instantly so the powder was live
be careful
Take your time and don't put hands or fingers over the barel when doing the extracting

If doing again I would add water to dampen the potential powder


The powder might be still live or it might be expended
No point in taking a chance
Best of luck
Nice to have a story with the gun
Obviously remove flint if present in the hammer before you do anything
Regards
Ken

Last edited by Ken Maddock : 18th September 2014 at 09:38 PM.
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Old 18th September 2014, 07:08 PM   #3
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Certainly a problem which needs attention. A friend of mine, years ago destroyed his TV by putting a cap on a newly acquired percussion gun without checking first to see if it was loaded!
At the moment YOU own the pistol, but what about a few years down the track.
There is an attachment for clearing rods which looks like a double headed cork screw. This is designed for pulling balls/bullets from muzzle loaders. If you do not have one, then any good gunshop should be able to supply one. They may even agree to do the job for you.
Do not leave the pistol loaded.....very dangerous!
Stu
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Old 18th September 2014, 09:36 PM   #4
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Thanks Ken and Stu for your good advice. I'm glad I asked as I was tending to think the powder would not be viable after maybe 150 years or so. I'll proceed with caution.
CC
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Old 18th September 2014, 09:43 PM   #5
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There are cases of US civil war collectors having 150 year old powder loaded cannon balls exploding and killing them while cleaning the balls with wire brushes
I do not think black powder degrades and becomes more sensitive with time but will happily take a correction

Google civil war collector dies cleaning cannon ball

and you should find the story
Keep we'll
Ken
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Old 18th September 2014, 10:21 PM   #6
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Rather than water, I would dampen the charge with thin oil, like 3 in 1. Let it sit overnight.

This will kill any pyrotechnic tendency.
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Old 19th September 2014, 08:31 AM   #7
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Hi there,


From aspects of science, and especially chemistry, we know that, with fine dust-like blackpowder before ca. 1600, saltpeter is volatile and such "meal" powder will generally not explode any longer than some 30 years after it got mixed.

In the case of grained 18th or 19th century blackpowder, I would basically recommend being careful.


Best,
Michael
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Old 19th September 2014, 07:42 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Shakethetrees
Rather than water, I would dampen the charge with thin oil, like 3 in 1. Let it sit overnight.

This will kill any pyrotechnic tendency.


I agree, Id go with this, definitely saturate in oil first....

Spiral
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Old 19th September 2014, 08:46 PM   #9
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Thanks for the oil advice guys I'll go with that and thanks Michael for the science.
Regards, CC.
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Old 21st September 2014, 02:11 AM   #10
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CC, you are going to post a pic of this sea service pistol, I hope!
Always like to see the naval stuff...and do be careful, as all have said. I've got an iron grenado with congealed black powder down the hole that I keep in a cool, dry place!
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Old 21st September 2014, 03:26 PM   #11
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Oil will render 19th & 20th century priming compound safe.

Does anyone here know, in fact, that oil will keep corned black powder from igniting? Personally I rather doubt it.

Black powder stays good for centuries.
Try not to kill or cripple yourself.

As a teen-ager I unloaded Grandfather's 20ga shotgun & an old Potsdam musket, doubt that I took proper precautions beyond avoiding the muzzle. Grampa was not pleased that his gun had been left loaded.
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Old 21st September 2014, 06:19 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JamesKelly
Oil will render 19th & 20th century priming compound safe.

Does anyone here know, in fact, that oil will keep corned black powder from igniting? Personally I rather doubt it.

Black powder stays good for centuries.
Try not to kill or cripple yourself.

As a teen-ager I unloaded Grandfather's 20ga shotgun & an old Potsdam musket, doubt that I took proper precautions beyond avoiding the muzzle. Grampa was not pleased that his gun had been left loaded.


Its what I was taught many decades ago, but Ive never tested it.

So yes ignore please my advice!

Some things I was taught HAVE proved to be wrong, over the years..

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Old 21st September 2014, 06:48 PM   #13
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I will try to do a test this week and post my results.
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Old 21st September 2014, 07:51 PM   #14
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Be careful with that! But a definitive answer would be good and I guess many people are interested in the result, especially as it seems likely that there are more muzzle loaders out there still containing a charge.

Internet search throws up some agreement with the oil but nothing definite. Some suggest water is only good as a temporary measure as when dried the powder will resume its explosive ability.
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Old 23rd September 2014, 09:33 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by M ELEY
CC, you are going to post a pic of this sea service pistol, I hope!
Always like to see the naval stuff...and do be careful, as all have said. I've got an iron grenado with congealed black powder down the hole that I keep in a cool, dry place!


Hi Mark, Just a relatively common Belgian Sea Service pistol but I'll post a pic when I have the ball out and sitting beside it!
Meantime don't chuck that grenado at anyone. CC
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Old 24th September 2014, 01:37 AM   #16
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OK.

I wet some BP with 3 in 1 oil this afternoon.

Tomorrow I will attempt to set it alight.

I will post the results.
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Old 24th September 2014, 01:41 AM   #17
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Hello, CC. I have one of those as well. I'd be interested to know the markings on yours. I'm told they were exported to the Nordic countries, Britain and possibly Africa?? Mine has the standard ELG (Elgin) marking, but I seem to remember another. I'll have to look at it when I'm home again...
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Old 24th September 2014, 09:24 AM   #18
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oil and ammonium nitrate makes a very nasty explosive. google ' nitrate' and 'motor oil. then wait for NSA and/or homeland security/ATF to pay you a visit. the 1947 houston ship channel disaster was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions ever. 2300 tons of the stuff. wiki linky

i suspect 3in1 and potassium nitrate (saltpeter) would be similarly dangerous.

wear your saftey goggles justincase when you ignite it. you may also want to wear flameproof gloves as well. i didn't once, disposing of some black powder before i moved from alabama, i got 2nd degree burns on the fingers of my hand that held the match i lit a trail of BP with. it smarted. for weeks.

awaiting your results.

addendum: found a 1932 patent (US 1882853 A ) for black powder fuses using castor oil to slow down burning time. it noted that combustion propagation was 'unreliable' with more than 5% oil. it also recommended using a water emulsion of water and a miscable oil instead.

water or oil down the muzzle may or may not get past the ball sealing off access to the powder charge, injecting it into the pan or cap hole also may not work very well. never think, now it is safe so i can pound on it.

attached is a photo of a toolkit for a flintlock, the double helix ramrod tip was screwed on & used to extract the patch or patched ball. if that could not get sufficient purchase the the screwed tip that looks like an upside down wood screw was screwed into the lead projectile. if that failed, the whole barrel would need to be removed from the stock & the breech plug unscrewed to give access to remove the powder and ball. initial procedure would have been to re-prime the pan (or replace the percussion cap with a new one) & try again to fire it. in combat that whle procedure was off course impractical, so you'd drop the darn thing and pick one up from the nearest corpse of one of your companions who didn't need his anymore. or, if an officer, draw your sword.

in any case, NEVER point the muzzle at anything you hold dear. that of course includes never looking down the barrel muzzle. never put your hand's palm on the ramrod end to push it down, even a small squib discharge can spear you. a full discharge would put a rather larger hole in your hand. better to lose a couple finger tips.
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Last edited by kronckew : 24th September 2014 at 10:20 AM.
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Old 24th September 2014, 12:28 PM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by M ELEY
... Mine has the standard ELG (Elgin)...

Those initials mean something different, Mark; E for Eprouvé (proofed) and LG for Liege
Definitely not Elgin

.

Last edited by fernando : 24th September 2014 at 04:55 PM.
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Old 25th September 2014, 04:31 AM   #20
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Yikes!! You are right, Fernando! I meant Liege, the famous maker in Belgium. I guess my sleep-addled brain was making the ELG logo into another weapons maker! Thanks for the heads-up!
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Old 25th September 2014, 12:46 PM   #21
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Why not just prime it, put in a new flint and shoot the damn thing? Aside from making the pistol safe it would also be an interesting excursion into the past.
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Old 25th September 2014, 04:26 PM   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by M ELEY
Yikes!! You are right, Fernando! I meant Liege, the famous maker in Belgium. I guess my sleep-addled brain was making the ELG logo into another weapons maker! Thanks for the heads-up!

If i may again, Mark
Liege is not a specific arms maker but the city where an abundant number of arms makers worked; a center like Birmingham in Britain or Eibar in the Basque Country.
The oval ELG punction is the Government proof house mark. Liege was a Bishopric Principality in the Waloon region, before it became part of Belgium Kingdom, reason why we generaly say that a gun is made in Belgium, whereas the gold period in which their arms making achieved notorious quality was Liege. When the 19th century arrived their massified production was such (copies, replicas, foreing contracts) that their quality was no longer a symptom of quality but instead one imponderable.
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Old 25th September 2014, 07:50 PM   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by batjka
Why not just prime it, put in a new flint and shoot the damn thing? Aside from making the pistol safe it would also be an interesting excursion into the past.



Yes, sounds like a good idea at first.
But this is what Norm Flayderman says about loaded antique firearms in his reference book ...."do not under any circumstances, attempt to remove it (the powder charge) by firing the gun....extremely hazardous".
Consider that the effect of 150 years of corrosive black powder and a seized in ball could possibly rupture the barrel. A long piece of string may well save your hand but certainly not your investment.
CC
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Old 25th September 2014, 09:48 PM   #24
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...and the results are in!

I saturated a bit of BP with 3 in 1 oil as shown in the images I posted.

Unfortunately, the porosity of the fireproof crucible sucked the oil away from the powder, and left it high and dry!

I repeated it in a stainless steel cup, saturated the powder as before and waited 24 hours. The result is the powder ignited slowly and somewhat reluctantly, and burned much more slowly than fresh, unsaturated powder does.

I stand corrected.

Do not use oil. Yes, the volatility was significantly reduced, but, as it still burned, I wouldn't recommend it. Period.

I'm doing the same with water. It's soaking right now, tomorrow I will take the water away and dry the powder before I attempt to light it.

More results later.

It's great to have an excuse to do a little experimentation like this that could have benefits to the collecting community at large.

And, besides, it's great to have a brief return to my childhood!
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Old 25th September 2014, 10:04 PM   #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by batjka
Why not just prime it, put in a new flint and shoot the damn thing? Aside from making the pistol safe it would also be an interesting excursion into the past.


Because:
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Old 25th September 2014, 10:06 PM   #26
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This reminds me of a situation I had in April of 2001.

I was at Charles DeGaulle airport waiting in line to get a boarding pass.

As luck would have it I found a nice little French flintlock pocket pistol, c.1760 at the Marche Paul Bert at the Puces.

While waiting in line, (and remember, this is pre 9-11 when security was a lot looser.) the lady asked if we had anything that we might have that could cause a problem down the line, as my baggage still was not checked.

I called her over and mentioned the antique pistol. You should have seen the look on her face! She then nervously called her manager, who was French, over, and mentioned our dilemma.

He asked to have a look at it, so I took it out and handed it over. One quick look, he gave it back with the admonition, "Monsieur, the only way this pistol could be a danger is if you threw it at someone."

So I packed it up and flew home, no other problems.

Jet lag took over, and, being unable to sleep, I got the pistol out and began making a top jaw. (The original was missing when I bought it.)

Just for grins, I decided to replace the ramrod, also missing. Lo and behold, as I was measuring the depth of the bore, to my surprise I found it was still loaded!

A little oil down the bore and the ball and charge came out.,the wadding used was tow, a fine straw like thin dried grass. The remains of the powder was up dampened by the oil, so I lit it and it burned as one would expect.

So, the old admonition of treating each and every gun as though it IS loaded, really rang true.
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Old 26th September 2014, 09:28 AM   #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Shakethetrees
...and the results are in!

...............
Do not use oil. Yes, the volatility was significantly reduced, but, as it still burned, I wouldn't recommend it. Period.


Hi Shakethetrees, Great work and thanks for taking the trouble on behalf of, not only myself, but the collecting community as a whole. The result is interesting and dispels the myth that oil neutralizes black powder. I'm sure a lot of members await your further results.
Thanks also JamesKelly for questioning the myth!!
CC
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Old 26th September 2014, 10:31 AM   #28
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Aarrrh! Got me again, 'Nando! Yes, I'm not the gun collector, obviously! Actually, I appreciate the info on Liege. It makes sense to me now, especially when comparing it to the Birmingham merchants all marketing their wares as if they had made them, versus the real smiths in other areas. I do know that the ELG logo underwent a subtle change post 1830, being the same letters, but in larger form. They still made flintlocks after this time period, so this helps to determine the ones made after 'Age of Fighting Sail'.
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Old 26th September 2014, 12:20 PM   #29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by M ELEY
...I do know that the ELG logo underwent a subtle change post 1830, being the same letters, but in larger form. They still made flintlocks after this time period, so this helps to determine the ones made after 'Age of Fighting Sail'.

This is a long story .
The imposing of Liege proof marks has been quite problematic since the 17th century. At first the gunmakers could punction the proof mark in their own shop ... making this suspicious. Then some only punctioned the initial E (eprouvé=proofed) evading the origin identification.
Establishment of regular definite proof marking (ELG) was only achieved with the Napoleonic occupation (1810-1815), however declining soon after under Dutch rule. Those guys were realy undisciplined.
Intermediary marks were meanwhile edited ( EL as from 1853), depending on the type of (multiple) barrel and their use, besides the famous Perron (as from 1846 - see atttachment) for the chamber of the various system guns.
Meanwhile the ELG mark was added a crown over the oval as from the second half 19th century.
Also apparently the two forms (dimensions) of the crowned punction serve to identify disting types of barrel proof, the larger for muzzle loaders and the smaller for self loading pistols and the like. I realize this is the mark we often see in second half 19th century mass production revolvers out there.
Apart from a 'few other minor' punctions and the above exposition subject to correction, here you have a resume of the Liege (Belgium) proof marks saga.

... And i hope by now that CC is not mad for his thread hijack .

.
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Last edited by fernando : 26th September 2014 at 12:33 PM.
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Old 26th September 2014, 02:10 PM   #30
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Another problem with firing off an old loaded gun, is that someone may have loaded it with some other powder it wasn't made for. A lot of powders are black!.........but they are not "Gunpowder", ie, black powder.
It is also quite likely that a loaded weapon could have been loaded in the last few years.
In the last year I have purchased two that were loaded, One an English double sporting gun, the other French.
The French one was wadded with newspaper (Obituary page!) of someone apparently died in 1983 if I remember correctly.
Many of us shoot these old arms, and it isn't outside the realms of possibility that they are occasionally left loaded.
Drawing a charge is normally no bother, and nothing to be alarmed about.
Those that use these old guns withdraw charges as a matter of course.
Keep your head out of the way of the muzzle, and use a good worm on your rod, and all will be fine.
Normally we don't bother wetting the powder first, as it makes it harder to clean out. Old powder can set into a cake, so must be broken up to get it all out. Clean & oil the barrel afterwards to prevent rust.

Richard.
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