Getting Started The Right Way
There are several factors that have to be
taken into consideration in order to maximize the full potential and cost
savings involved with cast bullets.
Rule # 1 - KNOW THY GUN
The first thing I ask most of my customers when they need help is about the firearm they are planning to use the cast bullets in. I have a pretty good background with most of the firearms out there and that gives me some insight into the quality and range of tolerances usually found in such guns. If I am unfamiliar with a gun then the basics still apply to the firearm in question. Knowing the dimensions of the barrels is only the start. If you are shooting a revolver then knowing the cylinder throat dimensions is also crucial to getting the bullets to shoot well. All the manufacturers vary in the closeness of the tolerances found in today's firearms. Newer CNC manufactured firearms and precision made parts have had an impact in that we are seeing guns being made with a lot tighter tolerances than before without the need for as much hand fitting that went into the guns of previous years. Still there are many excellent older guns that were made during a time when craftsmanship still meant something. I am going to assume for the moment that firearm you have is in good working order and has no major problems.
On revolvers the easiest way to measure the cylinder throats and the barrel is to obtain lead round balls that are larger than the cylinder throats. (On occasion if one can find soft split shot type fishing sinkers that are the right size those can work as well.) By pushing the soft lead ball thru the cylinder you are left with the exact size of the hole. By measuring this with a micrometer we can now see what the dimensions of all the cylinder throats are for your particular gun.
A side note here about measuring. Many people believe that if they use a caliper that they can get the proper measurement and the fact is that most people canít use a caliper well enough to get an accurate reading. Thumb pressure alone on the wheel of a caliper can cause a variation in readings of a couple of thousandths. Very few people have the skill to get it right with calipers. The micrometer is more reliable in getting an accurate reading. In the event that you do not have a good micrometer then you can wrap the lead balls up in paper and mail them to me and I will measure them for you at no charge. Once you have done this you need to push a lead round ball thru the barrel with a wooden dowel to get the barrel measurement. Knowing these dimensions will resolve many issues about proper bullet sizing for your particular gun.
While it is rare it does happen that there are firearms with cylinder throats that are smaller than the barrel and in those cases its going to be difficult to get cast bullets to shoot well. However any good gunsmith can ream the cylinder throats to a uniform dimension that will be at or slightly larger than the barrel dimensions and that will go a long way towards eliminating problems down the road. Some companies have sprung up as it were that now specialize in this type of work so maybe it not as rare as I think it is. If the dimensions on the throats and the gun are O.K. then we can move on. Now many people have loaded and shot their guns with cast bullets for many years without ever having to measure their guns. They just loaded them and shot them and everything worked out fine. Still others who did this and had mediocre to poor performance and turned their back on cast bullets did so without ever knowing why it was so. A little measuring can go a long way.
There are some other areas of concern that, while rare, may need some attention if it is warranted.
On revolvers it is required that the forcing cone is true and if necessary have the proper taper leading into the barrel. There are tools readily available to true the forcing cone if necessary and once again any good smith can handle that problem should it arise. The other concern is more subtle but can cause some serious headaches if its not diagnosed properly. Sometimes when barrels are threaded into the frame of the gun a bit of a crush fit can occur causing a constriction in the barrel at the junction point. This causes a problem in that the lead bullet will reduce in size when passing thru the constriction but then only to emerge into a larger area past the constriction inside the barrel. In most cases the bullet will not enlarge (obturate) back to a size that will provide a proper seal to the hot powder gasses and you end up with blow by and gas cutting and that leads to barrel leading and generally poor performance. The solution is more involved but requires the gunsmith to lap the restriction out to make the dimension as one with the rest of the barrel.
Finally the last area of concern is the condition of the barrel itself. Once again the variance of quality of barrels thru the years has varied a lot even within the same companyís history. Smith and Wesson produced a lot of revolvers for many years. As it was well known that for a time when S&W was owned by some different conglomerates thru the years there were time periods when the quality of the firearms was less than perfect or even desirable from a consumer standpoint. With the return of S&W to American ownership and control I have seen a vast improvement to the overall quality of the lineup. I have a S&W model 25-7 (5 inch .45 Colt) with the most perfect barrel I have ever seen on a production gun. A dream for shooting cast bullets through and this gun will NEVER see a jacketed or plated bullet thru it as long as I have it in my possession.
I had a 6 inch S&W model 19 that had one small rough spot in it that would ALWAYS hold a spot of leading that was the proverbial PIA to remove. The rest of the barrel was perfect but that one spot gave me fits. I sold the gun off before I really knew enough on how to have fixed it. I should have smoothed out that spot by polishing and lapping but I didnít know it at the time. Besides the gun was a .357 and I really was hooked on big bores at the time. The point is that if the barrel is rough and has tool marks and the like then proper sized cast bullets shot by proper powders for a given load with cylinder throats and barrel dimensions all up to spec will still leave lead fouling behind. The barrel must be in good condition or all is for naught. Most barrels donít need any attention while some may seem like youíll never get it to shoot right. Thatís something youíll have to figure out whether or not you want to put in the effort to make the barrel a shooter or not. Sometimes you canít turn a silk purse out of a sows ear as the old saying goes but then again you just might. Rebarreling is always an option and many have had good guns rebarreled and obtained tremendous performance increases in accuracy and ease of cleanup with this straightforward upgrade.
Thank you for letting me be of service to you,
Bob Palermo / President. firstname.lastname@example.org
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