Learn How to Load a Black Powder Pistol With Blanks

Black powder pistol
Learn to Load a Black Powder Pistol with Blanks. Becart / Getty Images

Reenactors who put on open-air performances based on old battles often use period firearms loaded with black powder blanks. These loads make a loud, satisfying noise and create the characteristic white smoke associated with black powder, but they don't send a deadly projectile flying across the field. This article contains some suggestions for loading blanks in muzzleloading guns.

Any time you load black powder (BP)  in a firearm, you must have the powder tightly contained; in other words, the grains of the powder charge needs to be kept together with no excess room around the grains. When shooting live rounds, it is the projectile itself, inserted down the barrel after the powder charge, that confines the grains of the black powder. When you're not using a projectile, though, a new method needs to be used to tightly contain the powder grains.  The methods described below for containing the powder charge should work equally well in both revolvers and pistols.

The Cream of Wheat Method

One method that seems popular with re-enactors with 44-caliber cap-and-ball revolvers is to load about 20 or 30 grains of black powder down the barrel (or into the revolver chambers), and then to put some cream of wheat on top of that. In a 44-caliber revolver, 30 grains of BP with 20 grains of cream of wheat is good starting point. In a 36-caliber gun, you can reduce those numbers to about 15 grains of powder, and 20 to 25 grains of cream of wheat

When using a revolver rather than a pistol, you may need to use a tool other than the gun's loading lever to pack the cream of wheat into each chamber, because the narrow end of the ramming portion of many loading levers may not provide a consistent "pack" across the entire chamber. A makeshift packing rod with a diameter that's about the size of the chamber would be better.

Wax Bullets

Wax bullets may also be used, but they are more trouble than the cream-of-wheat method and may be slightly more dangerous due to the fact that the method does involve a projectile of a sort. A wax bullet may not kill, but it can inflict plenty of pain and potential injury if it strikes someone. 

If you choose to use this method, cut wads from a thin sheet of paraffin or beeswax, and pack those down the bore or into the chambers on top of a light powder charge. Naturally, the wads need to be a snug fit in the chambers (on a revolver) or the bore (on a pistol) of your gun.

Florist's Foam

I have also heard of florist's foam (the green foam used to make floral arrangements) being used atop a modest powder charge--about 20 grains or so--in a 44. Again, the plug of foam needs to be a snug fit in the chamber/bore of the gun. Although you might naturally expect foam to melt and coat the bore of a firearm, people who use this method regularly say the foam pretty much disintegrates. 

Egg Carton Foam

Reader Michael Harris wrote me and said that when he used to do wild west re-enactments, he used the following method:

"We would use foam egg cartons to seal in the powder. We used a 45 cartridge case to cut wads to fit in our 44 revolvers, and a 38 case to cut the wads for our 36s. Once the powder was loaded we simply rammed in the foam wad so it was flat in the chamber. A drop of nail polish was brushed around the edge to seal it in place.​

"The nail polish would dry in just a minute or so, so we were able to load right before our show, or even reload during the shows. The foam and polish would burn out when fired and did no damage to the gun.

"It is quick and easy, and you can cut two to three hundred wads from a single egg carton."

What About Rifles? A Disclaimer

I believe these methods could be used in rifles, too,  but if you try any or all of these methods--whether rifle, handgun, or shotgun--it is at your own risk. I believe they are safe, but make no claim that you will not experience some sort of damage. I will not be liable for the use or misuse of any information provided on this Web site.

And, as always, keep guns pointed in a safe direction at all times, and don't aim at people--blanks or no blanks!