The cap and ball loading method is one of the first practical methods of loading a revolver. Samuel Colt created the first practical percussion cap revolver in 1836. This was the first of many revolvers, and many other gun companies, such as Remington, also started creating cap and ball revolvers during the 1850s. They relied on the loading of loose powder and ball, and although this meant that the gun would be slow to load, usually requiring around three to four minutes, the method was practical and dependable. The issue of loading in adverse conditions, such as wind and wetness, were still present however as exposed powder could be blown away or made wet when pouring it into the gun. During the American civil war, which lasted from 1861 to 1865, the majority of revolvers were cap and ball with the exception of certain companies such as the Volcanic Repeating Arms Co. and the Smith and Wesson handguns which fired self contained metallic cartridges. These were typically never seen in the war, however.During the war paper cartridges for percussion cap and ball revolvers were made. The paper cartridges made loading faster and were simply inserted in the cylinder and then capped. Although paper cartridges made percussion revolvers more efficient they were still cumbersome when compared to cartridge revolvers.
When the war ended cap and ball revolvers remained popular. Even when Colt and Smith and Wesson introduced superior cartridge firing revolvers the old cap and ball revolvers remained popular. Many were converted to fire metallic cartridges, but in the 1870s and 1880s as more convenient cartridge revolvers were introduced they lost their popularity. However one former Union soldier known as Bill Cody kept his Remington cap and ball revolver well into the 1900s. When he parted with his old revolver he stated that it never failed him.
- The revolver is placed to half cock to free the cylinder for rotation.
- A limited amount of black powder is then poured into each of the chambers.
- While not necessary, a lubed wad should be placed on the chamber to help cushion the ball from the powder that is ignited and helps scrape the barrel as it goes down after the barrel, and lubes it.
- The ball is then seated on the chamber.
- Using a loading lever to push the ball into the chamber, this is then repeated with the remaining chambers. The ball should be seated firmly ontop of the powder, just enough to slightly compress it.
- The nipples on each of the chambers are then capped with fingers or a capping tool.
With paper cartridges:
1. The revolver is placed to half cock to free the cylinder for rotation.
2. A paper cartridge is seated into a chamber.
3. Using a loading lever, push paper cartridge down into the chamber.
4. The nipples are then capped by hand or a capping tool and the revolver is now ready to fire.
Though not common, a misfire could happen when the revolver is fired (setting off the other charges, resulting in chain-firing). Most chain-fires are caused by ill-fitting caps, where sparks can get into neighboring nipples. The old idea of sealing the chambers with grease does not help as the chamber is already gas-sealed by the fit of the ball, and misfires have been found because of black powder stuck in the grease being hit by sparks going down the front of the chamber. To solve the problem, simply use proper-fitting, snug caps. Your balls should be snug-fitting enough that a small ring of lead is shaved off, causing the lead to conform to a gas seal. This makes sparks going into the powder past the ball simply impossible.