(Like most things I write, this is uncommonly long and youíll want to print it out for easier reading and reference --- Gatofeo)
In a firearms site a few months ago, a member posted Durofelt as a good source for felt for making your own wads for cap and ball sixguns, cartridge guns and related uses.
I can vouch for Durofeltís excellence. Not only is it perfect, when the right felt is ordered from this Little Rock, Arkansas company but the price is right.
I visited my brother in Little Rock during Christmas of 2004, so I made arrangements to visit DuroFelt. I have no affiliation with Duro-Felt
Asha Sahita runs it out of her Little Rock home but itís no fly-by-night business. Sheís been selling felt products since 1996.
Ms. Sahita, who is of Indian ancestry, said that a relative in India had a very successful felt-making business there. When he died, the family discussed selling the business but a family member stepped forward and said heíd like to try running it.
The family business continues to be successful in India but the business wanted to expand to other countries, including the U.S. He contacted his relative, Ms. Sahita, who agreed to begin selling the familyís felt products in the U.S.
Until I met with Ms. Sahita, she said she hadnít had much interest from the shooting community but I expect that will change when word gets out.
She offers a variety of felt products: buffing wheels for polishing (gunsmiths take note), gaskets, polishing bobs, knife edge wheels, felt blocks, piano and organ felt strips, cones and felt with an adhesive gum on one side for various uses.
Iíll stick with the topic at hand: sheet felt for making your own wads.
To view all Duro-Felt products, visit its website at www.durofelt.com.
Duro-Feltís address is: No. 6 White Aspen Court, Little Rock, AR, 72212-2032. Telephone: 501-225-2838. Fax: 501-219-9611. Email: DuroF1@aol.com
Shipping is FREE for retail orders from U.S. customers!
And tell her Gatofeo sent you. Iím sure sheíd be interested to learn how you found out about her business.
Now, on to the felt for wads.
I ordered a sheet of felt 54 X 36 inches, 1/8 inch thick, and of Hard density (Item FM1836H). The cost was $27.
The 1/8 inch is the right thickness for most black powder uses and the felt should be hard, to help scrape fouling from the bore.
Felt in other thicknesses and densities is offered: 1/16th, ľ, Ĺ, ĺ and 1 inch. Some thicknesses may only be obtained in certain densities, such as soft, extra soft, medium or hard. If you donít find what you want contact Duro-Felt and specify what you need.
ECONOMY OF MAKING YOUR OWN WADS
With a sheet of 1/8 inch hard felt, 54 X 36 inches, I could conceivably make 7,776 felt wads of .36, .44 and .45 caliber. Thatís calculating four wads per square inch (two down and two across --- 4 X 54 X 36 = 7,776).
Thatís a lifetime supply for $27 --- and plenty left over to sell to your buddies to recover your $27 if you wish.
If you purchase Wonder Wads, at about $6 per 100, for $27 youíll get a little over 400 wads. To purchase 7,776 Wonder Wads, at $6 per hundred, youíd need $467 --- compared to under $50 for a sheet of felt and a wad punch.
Quite a price difference, eh?
NOTES ON OX-YOKEíS ďWONDER WADĒ
Ox-Yoke claims that the dry lubricant on Wonder Wads is all thatís needed for black powder shooting. This claim is not borne by my experience.
If I use a Wonder Wad, with its dry lubricant, the last few inches of the bore of my 7-1/2 barreled revolvers is heavily fouled and accuracy soon suffers. If I soak that same wad in a natural grease or oil, fouling is greatly reduced and accuracy is prolonged.
Now, if I soak the felt wad in the lubricant Iíve enclosed here (See ďMaking The Best LubricantĒ below) fouling is reduced even more and accuracy maintained all day. Using a felt wad with the enclosed recipe, Iíve shot more than 100 balls in one day and never had to swab the bore.
Frankly, Iíve yet to find a lubricant as good as the one Iíve enclosed here, which was in a magazine more than 60 years ago. Itís not MY recipe, as some have reported, itís an old factory recipe for lubricating heeled bullets (works great for that too).
For me, greased wads work better than placing grease over the ball. Itís easier, not as messy and reduces fouling in the bore more.
The downside is that wads take a little more time to load. If youíre plinking at the gravel pit, that doesnít matter. If youíre shooting in a timed Cowboy Action Shooting event, it matters. But for most applications, greased felt wads are the best choice.
YOU NEED A WAD PUNCH
For .31 or .32 caliber, use a 5/16 inch or 7.5 or 8mm wad punch. For .36 caliber use a 3/8 inch or 9.5 or 10mm wad punch. For .44 or .45 caliber revolvers, or .45-caliber rifles, use a .45-caliber or 11mm or 11.25 to 11.5 mm wad punch. For .50 caliber, use a Ĺ inch or 12.5mm wad punch.
Youíll have to experiment with metric wad punches a bit. Iíve never used them, so Iím guesstimating the appropriate size. But felt wads are a little forgiving. If itís oversized a little bit, a close-fitting wooden dowel with a flat end will usually get it started in the bore, chamber or cartridge case. In fact, a snug-fitting wad is good as it will make a more effective seal against the powderís hot gases, protecting the bullet base or patched ball, and will scrape fouling better.
If you plan to make shotgun wads, or large-bore rifle wads, punches can sometimes be found in 10, 11, 12, 14, 16, 20, 24 and 28 gauge. Search the internet auction houses for these items. I see the more common-gauge wad punches offered regularly on Ebay.
For 12 gauge shotgun, rifle and pistol calibers, see the Buffalo Arms website at http://www.buffaloarms.com.
Buffalo Arms of Ponderay, Idaho offers a variety of wad punches. The drill-press mounted kind is $20, in calibers .38, .40, .44, .45 and .50. The hammer-struck wad punch is $18 each, in .32, .38, .40, .43, .44, .45, .50 rifle calibers. 38-40, 44-40 and 45 pistol calibers. The reloading press-mounted wad punch is made in calibers .25 to 12 gauge and costs $52 to $75, depending on size. The press-mounted wad punch will shell out hundreds of wads in an hour, if thatís what you want.
MAKING WADS BY HAND
I use a 3/8 inch hand punch for my .36 caliber revolvers, a 7/16 punch for my .44-40, and a .45-caliber punch for my .44 cap and ball revolvers, .45 Long Colt and .45-70 rifles. It may be slower than other methods but I find that I can sit on the couch, watch TV and make hundreds of wads in one evening.
I place a piece of 2X8 inch board, about 18 inches long, across my lap. A piece of 8Ē diameter log, cut flat on both ends and about 8 inches long, is attached to the center of the board with long decking screws.
It is easiest to cut wads if the cutter goes into the end-grain of wood, rather than 90 degrees to the grain. Your cutting surface will last longer too.
A 12Ē long by 6Ē wide strip of felt is perfect for easy handling on the log. Youíll also want a piece of dowel, smaller than the diameter of your wad cutter, to push out any wads that resist traveling up the cutter and falling out. Watch your fingers around the sharp edges of that wad cutter, it will make a nasty cut!
WAD CUTTER HAS MULTI USES
Felt wads arenít the only thing you can make with a wad cutter. Thick or thin paper wads may be made, to protect the bulletís base or discourage contamination of the powder from lubricants on the patch or bullet.
A good source of card paper, in varying thicknesses, are the scraps found in a picture-framing shop. Most owners are happy to be rid of the scraps or will sell you a bagful for a few bucks.
Store cardboard or unlubricated felt wads in a small box, plastic tub (yogurt, margarine, cottage cheese, etc.), soup cans with a lid or --- my favorite --- small plastic, see-through jars. Plastic peanut butter jars are particularly good since they hold hundreds of wads and a quick glance often reveals the size. However, label the jar so you donít confuse a 7/16 inch wad meant for the .44-40 with a .45-caliber wad, for example.
LUBRICATE THOSE WADS
In most instances, the felt wad should be lubricated if it will be used with black powder. An exception is the use of one dry felt wad over the powder, with a lubricated felt wad over it and the projectile on top. This arrangement will keep lubricant from reaching the powder and affecting it over long periods of carry, as in hunting. In warm weather, when the lubricant may be rather fluid, this can greatly increase the reliability of a black powder gun.
For black powder shooting, a proper lubricant is required. Avoid petroleum-based greases and oils. When mixed with black powder, petroleum greases and oils often create a hard, tarry fouling that affects accuracy and is more difficult to clean.
Use a natural grease, wax or oil, made from animals or plants. Examples include lard, vegetable oils (canola, peanut, olive, etc.), Crisco, animal tallow, beeswax or carnauba wax, which is derived from palm trees (!).
The best substance Iíve found, bar none, is mutton tallow. Itís been in use with black powder, by the British military and others, for more than 150 years and I donít think itís by coincidence.
WHATíS THE BEST WAD LUBRICANT?
You can use Crisco, vegetable oils, lard or beeswax and theyíll all work okay. But, by far, the best lubricant Iíve found is a recipe I stumbled across in a 1943 American Rifleman magazine.
The article listed 10 pounds tallow, 10 pounds paraffin and 5 pounds beeswax as the factory recipe for outside-lubricated bullets.
Iíve settled on more specific ingredients when I make it: mutton tallow, canning paraffin and beeswax. With these specific ingredients, youíll make a black powder lubricant with a variety of uses: felt wads, patches, lead bullets in muzzleloaders and black powder cartridge guns, etc.
Of course, you donít need 25 pounds of lubricants. I use a kitchen scale to measure 200 grams of mutton tallow, 200 grams of canning paraffin and 100 grams of beeswax for the same ratio.
A note on beeswax: Most of the beeswax sold as toilet seals is no longer real beeswax but a synthetic. Youíll get an inferior lubricant if you use this stuff. Get the real beeswax from Muzzleloading Rendezvous, Renaissance Fairs, or hobby shops (but hobby shops typically charge an arm and leg). Also look under Beekeepers in your Yellow Pages or contact your local County Extension Agent to find out who rides herd on bees in your area. Most beekeepers will sell you a few pounds at a good price.
Raw beeswax will have fragments of the hive and dead bees in it. This can be a good deal if youíre willing to filter it a bit. Heat the raw beeswax at low heat in an old pan (thrift stores are good for old, knockabout pans) until the contaminants settle. Then, gently pour the clean, top beeswax through a paper coffee filter into mini-bread loaf pans or an old muffin pan, to make cakes.
You wonít remove every last speck of contaminant but it will be plenty good for use in bullet lubricants.
Or you can order unfiltered or filtered beeswax Beeswax from Beekepers in Minnesota at http://www.beeswaxfrombeekeepers.com or Stony Mountain Botanicals in Ohio at http://www.wildroots.com
Mutton tallow, made from sheep, is harder to find. The only source Iíve found is Dixie Gun Works, which sells a tub of 6 to 8 ounces for $3.50. Thankfully, itís not expensive. Buy two tubs and you wonít run out at a bad moment. If you live in sheep country, you may be able to find it at the local butcher shop or processing plant.
Itís remarkable stuff. If kept well sealed and at room temperature, it doesnít go rancid.
Canning paraffin is the solid wax used by canners to seal off the tops of jars of jams and jellies. Itís most often seen this way, in homemade preserves. Youíll find it in the baking section of your grocery store. A 1 lb. block is less than $2 in most stores.
MAKING THE BEST LUBRICANT
Mutton tallow Ė 200 grams
Canning paraffin Ė 200 grams
Beeswax Ė 100 grams
Place this amount in a wide mouth, one quart Mason jar. Place the jar into a pot containing four or five inches of boiling water for a double-boiler effect. This is the safest way to melt waxes and greases. Just in case of a fire, keep a box of Baking Powder handy --- but away from any flame area so you can get to it.
When the ingredients are thoroughly melted, stir well with a clean stick or disposable chopstick.
Remove from heat. Allow the lubricant to cool at room temperature. Hastening cooling by placing in the refrigerator may cause the ingredients to separate. When cool and hardened, screw the cap down tight on the jar and store in a cool, dry place.
What makes this lubricant so good? I believe itís not only the mutton tallow but the inclusion of paraffin, which stiffens the wad somewhat and makes it a more effective fouling scraper.
Iíve tried other lubricants, commercial and homemade, and still havenít found one that works as well as this recipe. It works equally well in other black powder applications.
It doesnít smell too bad, either. Itís different, but it wonít stink up the kitchen like melting chassis grease and other noxious ingredients often found in bullet lubricant recipes.
For rifle and revolver wads, I use a clean tuna or pet food can with the paper label removed.
Place the can on a cast iron skillet, or in a low pan of boiling water. You may also place the can directly on the burner, if itís kept at low heat and you watch it like a hawk.
Melt 2 Tablespoons of lubricant in the can. Add the wads. I can usually get 100 .36 to .45 caliber wads in a can, the larger ones if I cram them in a bit.
Stir the wads into the lubricant until theyíre thoroughly soaked. Add more lubricant if it looks like the wads are rather dry. You want a wad that is soaked with lubricant.
No need to squeeze out the excess lubricant, simply remove the can from the heat and allow cooling with the wads and lubricant in it. When cool snap a plastic, pet food cover over the can and store the wads in a cool, dry place.
Now, you have a container to take to the range. And when you run low on wads, simply reheat the can, add more lubricant and wads, and refill it.
Cans may be marked ď.36Ē or ď.44Ē or whatever on the side with a large felt pen and stacked on top of each other for easy identification.
WADS IN THE FIELD
Carrying the wads in the field can be a problem. They are greasy, and your hands are often greasy, so you need a container that is easily opened with greasy fingers.
Some stand-out containers include:
1. Shoe polish tin, with the key on the side for easy opening. Elmer Keith recommended this container years ago and itís still good.
2. Altoids Sour Candies tin. The Altoids mint tin may be difficult to open with greasy fingers, but Altoids also sells a sour candy in a round tin, in apple, citrus and orange flavors. This canís lid has a dimple on the side that, when pressed, pops the can open easily.
These two containers fit easily in the pocket, possibles bag or range bag.
I donít suggest plastic pill container with the easy-pop lid. Itís clumsy to fish out the wads from the long, narrow bottom. Percussion cap tins may be used but theyíre nearly impossible to open with greasy fingers.
USING THE WADS
Felt wads, lubricated as above, are outstanding in cap and ball revolvers. Charge the chamber with a measured amount of powder. Push the greased felt wad in with your thumb, so itís slightly below flush. Go on to the remaining chambers, charging with powder and pushing the greased felt wad in.
Now, use the rammer to seat the wad in each chamber down firmly on the powder. Donít crush the powder with undue force, just seat the wad until stiff resistance is felt.
Why do you seat the wads separately, and not along with the ball?
1. Should you forget to charge a chamber with powder, it will become apparent when you seat the wad. Itís a lot easier to remove a stuck wad than a stuck ball.
2. You get a better feel for how much pressure youíre applying to the wad with the rammer, when seated separately.
3. If you need to set the revolver down, for any reason, the felt wad will keep powder from spilling out of the chamber.
4. Itís easier to seat the ball if you donít have to juggle a greased wad too.
5. You get a better feel for how much pressure youíre applying to the ball when you seat it on the wad.
In a muzzleloading rifle, a greased felt wad on the powder will often improve accuracy. It will protect the patch on round ball loads, and the base of the bullet on conicals.
WARNINGS ON WADS
A word of warning is in order:
NEVER use a wad of any kind under a hollow-based bullet, such as the .58-caliber Minieí. The wad will interfere with the expansion of the bulletís skirt and affect accuracy.
NEVER place a wad over a solid projectile, no matter what type of gun youíre using. That wad may act as an obstruction in the bore as the bullet begins to move, raising pressures to catastrophic levels. An obvious exception is a muzzleloading shotgun, which requires a thin, paper top wad to keep the shot from rolling out.
Economy and tailoring your wads and lubricant are the reasons to make your own wads. Thereís also a little satisfaction in making your own. Myself, I love the idea that I no longer have to search for old felt hats to make wads --- now that Duro-Felt is known.