Pietta 1858 New Army Cap and Ball Revolver

It all started when my boss gave me a 400 dollar gift certificate to Cabelas for Christmas. I ordered a stainless Pietta 1858 New Army cap and ball revolver with an 8 inch barrel in early February and it arrived mid May. It's a nice pistol, although as a hobby machinist the number of burrs annoyed me. Nothing that an hour or two with a few needle files wont fix though. One thing to note is that the front sight is soldered into a blind hole. Eventually I'm going to cut a dovetail and get a replacement Uberti front sight so I can adjust the windage. Other than that it's long, heavy, and I have to wrap my pinky underneath the grip. But, that's all part of the charm of shooting an 1858.

Shooting black powder cap and ball is a lot of fun. When you pull the trigger there's a thundering boom, fire leaps out of the barrel, soot blasts out of the cylinder gap onto your hands, and a big white cloud of pungent smoke rolls down the firing line annoying the people next to you. As you cock the hammer little bits of spent percussion caps fall out and you're ready to do it again. Reloading however is a bit slow. More on that later.

The first shot out of the gun was way off from the last five, plus it had a noticeably darker ring around it. I think there was some crud left in the barrel from Pietta which the ball scraped off causing the flyer. The other five shots aren't particularly tight, but I wasn't particularly careful measuring the powder either. After shooting three or four cylinders, everything from the wrist down ends up with a slimy concoction of grease and soot. Thoroughly cleaning the gun afterwards is imperative, especially if you have a carbon steel version. One tip though is to use non petroleum based grease over the balls to keep the fouling soft. That way it's much easier to clean.

Since reloading cap and ball is a bit slow, I also bought a Howell cartridge conversion cylinder which is chambered for .45 Colt. Historically conversion cylinders were made because guns cost a lot of money and it was cheaper for Joe Farmhand to convert his cap and ball revolver than to buy one of them newfangled ones that load in less than 5 minutes. Anyway, the conversion cylinder comes in two pieces. One part looks like a normal center fire cylinder, while the other has a firing pin for each chamber. An indexing pin keeps everything aligned. It's also worth mentioning that by installing the conversion cylinder you've made a scary baby killing high capacity assault pistol with the shoulder thing that goes up. Put in the cap and ball cylinder and it immediately goes back to old clunker of a relic Johnny Reb used and is fit to mail through the postal system if you so desire. At least according to the ATF.

You can load the .45 Colts with black powder like the originals, or low power smokeless loads to keep the mess down. I doubt hot loads would blow the gun up, but I'm not experimenting. I reloaded some shells with 5.8 grains of Unique and a 200 grain RNFP bullet. According to my reloading manual that should get up to around 800 feet per second. From what I've read you want to stay below 1000 fps when shooting smokeless loads in a black powder revolver.

I'm not much of a target shooter, but I got 2" groups shooting off a bench at 10 yards. I'm sure sandbags and practice would tighten that up some, the main issue is the sights. They're pretty crude compared to modern stuff. The rear sight is just a notch filed in the top strap and the front sight is a strange sort of post. To reload, merely drop the rammer, pull out the cylinder pin, thumb back the hammer an 1/8", rotate the cylinder clockwise, separate the two halves, knock out the brass, reload, align the halves of the cylinder, thumb back the hammer, replace the cylinder, slide the cylinder pin back, flip the rammer handle up, cock the hammer, and blaze away at the bad guys! All in all it's a pretty fun gun, especially considering I have less than 100 dollars in it.

Dovetailing a New Front Sight (October 14th, 2013)

I've had the pistol now for about five months and decided the fixed front sight had to go. The gun shoots about 3" to the left and I got sick of using Kentucky Windage on every shot. So I ordered a replacement stainless steel Uberti front sight from
VTI Replica Gun Parts. It soon came and I gave filing a dovetail by hand a try.

First I cut off the front sight with a hacksaw. Then I used a coarse file to file the stub down close to the top of the barrel flat. Then a fine file to take it down flush. After I took the picture I draw filed and sanded the top flat with some emery paper. I was pretty careful not to round over the corners on the barrel.

Next it was time to file the dove tail. I painted some layout fluid on the end of the barrel and used a marking gauge to scribe a pair of parallel lines that indicate the narrowest point of the dovetail. Then I used a file to take the dovetail down to depth and work my way over to the lines. Next I ground the teeth off one side of a small triangular needle file and made the undercuts. By grinding the teeth off one side I made a "safety edge" and I could file away without fear of increasing the depth of the dovetail. It's a good idea to test the sight in the dovetail frequently so you don't take out too much. You want it to go in tightly, but not so tight that you bulge the inside of the barrel.

After I got the dovetail cut I used a hammer and brass punch to center the sight. After that it was off to the range to sight it in! I needed to drift the sight to the left nearly an eighth of an inch to get the shots centered. I also filed the top of the sight down to raise the shots on the target.

My final two groups from the range session. Generally I shot three shot groups, but for the final two I went with a full cylinder of six. My final group size is 1-3/4" at 10 yards. I'm not a good target shooter by any means, but I am pretty pleased with those groups.

And finally here's a video of me shooting 7" diameter steel plates at 10 yards. I had a bit of a cap jam at the end. From what I've read, the Colt design was much more liable to have shards of caps work their way into the action and jam it up, but the 1858 wasn't immune from the problem.