Cap And Ball Conversions

Revolvers using percussion caps were all the rage during the American Civil War.

cap and ball

It had only been a few decades since they had appeared, and most handguns up to that time were single shot affairs.  But now you had six shots before reloading!  Amazing!

It must have seemed to the people at the time as if they had Thor’s hammer in their holster.

The biggest problem with cap and ball revolvers, however, is that it took a great deal of time to reload.  Loose powder had to be measured and poured into each chamber, with a round lead bullet forcibly pushed down on top.  After all of the chambers were stoked up, then percussion caps would have to be fitted to the rear of each.

Sometimes the caps would not want to stay put, and so they would have to be carefully crimped.  Even so, it was common for percussion caps to come loose.  This would not only mean that one of the loads would not go bang, but the cap could also work its way into the mechanism of the revolver and jam the cylinder to a stop.

That is why the introduction of cartridge technology was greeted with joyous glee by anyone who used a handgun.

standard 9mm lead ammo

The powder, bullet, and primer all in one convenient package?   Just slip a new one into the chamber to reload, instead of measuring powder and forcing bullets into cylinders?  And, what is even more amazing, no percussion caps going walkabout in the guts of your gun so it doesn’t work?  Give me some of that!

The problem was that there were all these cap and ball handguns around, precision machines that cost a great deal.  Luckily, converting them to use the new cartridge system wasn’t particularly difficult.  New technology could be grafted on the framework of something that was otherwise outmoded and obsolete.

cartridge conversion of a cap and ball handgun

(Picture source.)

Cap and ball revolvers played a big role in the Civil War, and were seen as a great technological advance.  It only took ten years after that conflict to see percussion cap handguns almost completely disappear, replaced by something that was obviously an order of magnitude better in terms of ergonomics and rate of fire.

A regular reader of this blog is knirirr, who is a citizen of the United Kingdom.  He shares with us the news that he is the proud owner of a .38 caliber revolver. a heavily modified Armscor M200.  Congratulations, knirrir!

Heavily modified, you ask?  In what way has it been changed from factory specs?

Modern cartridge handguns are, to all intents and purposes, completely illegal in the UK.  This is not true for cap and ball revolvers, however.  So knirrir’s Armscor has been converted to use percussion cap technology.

knirris new cap-and-ball revolver

Shoots pretty good, as well.  The target below was set at twelve meters, and it had previously been used as a target for .22 and .44 caliber arms.  As you can see, knirrir is hard at work getting to know his new firearm.

cap and ball conversion target

This was not a small purchase.  As knirrir says ….

By the time an Armscor M200 has been converted to muzzle-loading and has made its way over to the UK it costs £500! “

My American readers are probably wondering how much that would be in US Dollars, so let me reveal that it is about $855 USD.

The Armscor revolvers I’ve seen here in the United States usually sell for $300 USD, maybe a little more.  A quick check of the conversion rate on the day I wrote this essay, and we see that this is about £175 GBD.  And so is the law of Supply and Demand harshly illustrated.

This probably strikes most of my readers from the United States as a rather absurd way to get around overly restrictive guns laws, but remember that we also have to jump through some strange hoops in order to own firearms.  There just aren’t as many in the US as in the UK, is all.

At any rate, please join me in thanking knirirr for sharing news of his new purchase!

5 thoughts on “Cap And Ball Conversions

  1. Thanks for the comments, James.
    In case anyone is interested I put a video of it in action here. The first shot failed to strike the primer (something I’d seen earlier during that range session) but the subsequent ones were OK.

  2. For anyone interested in blackpowder shooting there is a web site called The High Road ( that has a great deal of information on shooting cap and ball revolvers.

  3. I knew, well knew vaguely, that was a market for reproduction cap-and-ball revolvers in the UK. But I was completely unaware that there was a market for modern revolvers “retro-engineered” to an archaic system.

    As the post says “supply-and-demand.” 🙁

    Thanks to knirirr for linking the video, and long may you continue to enjoy yourself.

    • Thanks!
      There’s also a market for “long barrelled” handguns, which obviously have a rather long barrel (30cm) and a non-removable counter weight on the grip giving a total length of 60cm. These can use modern ammunition.

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