ask-the-marshallIs it true that you can fire multiple shots from a percussion cap pistol if you don’t grease the lead when you load it into the cylinder?

David Luthens
Hutchinson, Minnesota

You betcha; it’s called a chain fire. Percussion cap revolvers are loaded by pouring black powder into the cylinders, ramming lead balls onto the charges and then placing a cap on the cylinder nipples. The flash of the cylinder being fired can ignite residue powder around the cylinder openings, causing the others to go off in a chain fire. To eliminate a chain fire, heavy greases, such as bear grease, are smeared over the cylinder holes.

Today’s black powder shooters use heavy grease that can be purchased at gun shops. The advent of the metallic cartridge, which contains the charge, primer and bullet, made shooting a lot safer—for the shooter, anyway.


Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian. His books include The Arizona Trilogy and Law of the Gun.

If you have a question, write:

Ask the Marshall,

PO Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327

or e-mail him at

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