18th century round ball size

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Banjoman

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I’ve tried to find some information on a question with little success. Did folks in the 18th century and early 19th century use smaller sized round balls in rifles than us modern folks use? I’ve been experimenting some with smaller sized round balls in my riles than is normally used and like the ease of loading. I’ve often wondered if folks back in the day used smaller round balls since there seems to be little if any evidence of short starters.
If this has already been discussed in another thread please let me know so I can read it.

Thanks
 

Jakeytoo

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Interesting question, something I’ve always wondered about. The patching material available at the time, could not have been consistent like today’s.

I coned my barrel on Dixie back in the mid to late 80’s, making loading simpler. I did it with stuff I had available to me, a tapered wooden spool, emory paper and scotchbite. With .490 ball as a centering guide.
 

Banjoman

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Yep, I’m fairly certain they didn’t walk into a trading post with a pair of calipers to get just the right size pillow ticking. I’m thinking patch or wadding material would have been at least somewhat inconsistent and probably varied.

And when facing an enemy, either 2 or 4 legged, I doubt that when reloading they would take a lot of time to be picky with their loading technique. It’s those times I believe a smaller round ball would be used.
 

ohio ramrod

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As stated the cloth or thin leather available back then was probably a lot than what we use today
 

Jakeytoo

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As stated the cloth or thin leather available back then was probably a lot than what we use today
I recall reading of long hunters using a leather patch, but that was long ago and I can’t cite my source. Deer skin is relatively thin, still it wouldn’t be a consistent thickness.
 

tenngun

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Boone is recorded by Audubon as having bought 200 count irish linen for his gun.
Good cloth did get traded to post. They were not all corse cloth and take what they gots. Multi references from trading stations getting stuck with stuff they couldn’t sell
 

ohio ramrod

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As stated the cloth or thin leather available back then was probably a lot than what we use today
Now that the computer is working again, the cloth was a lot thicker then than what we use today, Most of the people made do with what they could get.
 

Brokennock

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I've always kind of thought it likely that mid 18th century to early 19th century shooters used a smaller ball than most muzzleloader shooters use today was likely. At least for general use hunting and fighting. Maybe they went larger/tighter when "shooting at marks," or competing in a turkey or beef shoot.
My reasoning has been that, as mentioned earlier, while quality fabric was available at trading posts, one may not have always been able to get the same cloth and a smaller ball would allow for varying patch thickness, deer/bison/elk/enemies and such didn't need the accuracy level needed today to win matches. Also, there are many period accounts of reloading on the run and other quick reloading and reloading in odd positions, compared to standing on the line at the range, this would have been far easier with a looser fitting patch/ball combination. Might have been impossible with some of the loads I read of folks using today. That looser fit would also allow for fouling build up when reloading while in a hairy situation.

Unfortunately, it would be a very difficult presumption to prove with existing documentation.
It would be interesting if we could find a rifle together with the ball mold the gun builder provided with that rifle. We have a letter written by a builder regarding a rifle built and sent to a customer that speaks of sending powder and such, which I believe mentions the balls to the pound size of the bore, but doesn't tell us what that equates to in ball size for the mold that went with the gun.
 

nkbj

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No matter how much smaller the balls were than the bores I'd just about suspect that there was accuracy load development above and beyond the every day good enough to do the job loads...
So why wouldn't they have avoided troublesome tight loads?
 

Banjoman

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I just never could imagine Daniel Boone pounding on a short starter in the middle of a fight. And I don’t mean to sound sarcastic. Just discussing.
 

Brokennock

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No matter how much smaller the balls were than the bores I'd just about suspect that there was accuracy load development above and beyond the every day good enough to do the job loads...
So why wouldn't they have avoided troublesome tight loads?
Because they aren't,,,, excuse me, weren't,,,, needed. I guess one could even equate a ball that needs to be pounded down during a fight to a hard to clear stoppage in a modern gun during battle.
 

Banjoman

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I did some more digging on this site and found some discussion from 2017 about loading blocks and short starters. One person mentioned that folks in the 18th and 19th centuries probably used looser patch and ball combinations than we do today. That’s what I had long suspected. Anyway, I prefer a looser patch and ball combination for easy loading. It’s plenty accurate enough for me out to about 50 yards.
 

JCKelly

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Learned about muzzle loading rifles from Dad & Grampa. Grampa won the local matches with his Grampa's rifle in the 1890's. I was given a John Shuler caplock by a relative when I was ten. Came with bag, horn & mould. I never ever saw or heard of a "short starter" when I shot old rifles.
Can't speak about 18th century stuff but in the first half of the19th century I'd sat they crowned or slightly "funneled" the muzzle. Look on that older site, "Americ . . ." check out names such as DPhariss, Daryl, Rich Pierce &c.
1624297893755.png

This rifle did not come with a "short starter" nor did I ever try to use one on it (didn't know about them). Circa 1950's. Approx .36 cal.
1624298030599.png
 

Notchy Bob

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We have an old Tennessee rifle in the family that came with the original mould. Sorry, but I don't have any pictures, and I don't even have the rifle in my possession at this time, although it is still in the family. Anyway, this one had an unusually large bore for a Tennessee rifle, somewhere around .53 caliber. When I was young and foolish, maybe about 16, I shot this rifle a few times with light to moderate loads, using balls run from the original mould and patched with old ticking salvaged from a discarded mattress. I specifically remember it was easy to load, without a short starter, and it shot very well.

In Small Arms and Ammunition in the United States Service, author Berkeley R. Lewis reported that the US rifles which were intended to be loaded with patched round balls used balls .015" under bore size, e.g. a .54 caliber rifle shot a .525" ball. This is corroborated by some of the other references I have found.

In The Kentucky Rifle, Captain Dillin stated that many early hunters had two moulds for each rifle, and they were in the habit of carrying two sizes of balls, although he indicated one would be under bore diameter, for shooting with a patch, and the other somewhat larger, for a quick reload without a patch.

I imagine a lot of old rifles were separated from their accoutrements as they were passed down through generations of heirs. I have not seen a period document describing any sort of formula or "rule of thumb" for determining ball size, but the information I have suggests the old hunters did not load 'em as tight as is recommended nowadays.

Notchy Bob
 

Banjoman

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I have seen contents of old original possibles bags with rifles in museums and online. Sometimes there were round balls in them of different sizes. Also present sometimes was some cloth and maybe a bullet mold. Never saw an old original short starter.

What got me to thinking about all this was while studying Revolutionary and Civil war loading techniques. The soldiers used somewhat loose fitting paper patched round balls. This is documented and has been discussed at length.

All my shooting, which is mostly plinking, is done at less than 50 yards. I used a tight patch and ball combination with a short starter for years and grew tired of it. I wondered about historically correct loading methods. Then I started using looser combinations and found them to be absolutely acceptable for my purposes and believe them to be historically accurate.

Just some pondering from an old hillbilly.😀
 

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