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Re: How To Tell If My 1873 Trap Door Can Actually Be Fired

Posted by John W. Ford on Sunday, 11 October 2009, at 1:45 p.m., in response to Re: How To Tell If My 1873 Trap Door Can Actually Be Fired, posted by Ted on Saturday, 10 October 2009, at 7:12 p.m.


Light oxidation can be stripped using straight ammonia soaked into a sheepstail swab and passed through the bore until the oxidation is removed. If need be, squeeze out the fouled sheepstail and rewet between several passes through the bore. The ammonia disolves the rust in a chemical reaction resulting in a yellow-stained sheepstail and rinse water. This process is about the mildest chemical method of which I know. It dissolves the ferrous oxide by chemically reacting with the oxidation to form ferrous/ferric ammonium nitrate in aqueous solution. If the oxidation is more than you originally assumed, you can cork the breech and fill the barrel with straight ammonia then cork the muzzle. Set the firearm aside for a day or two and then drain the barrel for inspection. The ammonia will not attack unoxidized metal of the barrel. Repeat the above if need be. Above all, makje sure you rinse and oil the bore before storage as the metal is extremely vulnerable to oxidation after such ammonia cleaning.

By the way, that slick feeling you get when using ammonia... that's disolved skin tissue lubricating your finger tips. Wear rubber or latex gloves when using ammonia.

One can accellerate the process by using heated ammonia or heating the metal with hot water prior to the ammonia treatment. However, you probably will need a gas mask due to the noxious vapors that methos would generate.

After the oxidation is removed, pass several dry cleaning swabs through the barrel and then pass a lightly oiled patch through the barrel to prevent any further oxidation problems.

Do not use any petroleum based lubricants. The sulfur present in all petroleum based lubricants react with the black powder residue and atmospheric moisture to form sulphuric acid. This acid will begin to pit a barrel in a matter of a few hours depending upon the humidity, etc. Only use non-petroleum based lubricants such as crisco, bear grease, or Bore Butter.

External rust on iron is always susceptible to Naval Jelly. This is a phosphoric acid mixture that strips rust in a heartbeat. However, it also strips all other forms of oxidation such as patina, bluing, and browning; it eats human skin too! Remeber GLOVES! And ventilate! Do not use Naval Jelly on firearms if you intend upon maintaining monetary value of the piece due to the stipping of any original bluing, browning, or patina.

The safest method to clear any light rust from a bore would be the old method of a bronze bore brush, oil, and elbow grease liberally and vigorously employed.

In any event, be extremly caucious of discharing the firearm. The iron of the breech and the barrel are nye onto 130 years old. Metalurgy back then is not what it is today (remember the iron plates of the Titanic, for an example). I will not fire my 1869, 50-70 trapdoor for that very reason alone. The other reason is the original ammunition was 70 grains of FF black powder with a pure lead projectile. The pressures did not exceed 20,000 CUP. Unless you can guarantee the discharge pressures remain below 20,000 CUP, DON'T DO IT!

Either donate the firearm to a military or VA museum for the tax writeoff or hang it over your fireplace for posterity.

John W. Ford


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