Clearing the Smoke The difference between “black powder” and “smokeless” framed Peacemakers.

The difference between “black powder” and “smokeless” framed Peacemakers.
The difference between “black powder” and “smokeless” framed Peacemakers.

Many Peacemaker fans seem to misunderstand the terms “black powder” frame and “smokeless” frame, so let’s clear the smoke.

Single Action Army shooters who think the term “black powder” frame means one can only fire black powder ammunition in this handgun, and the “smokeless” frame is for use with smokeless ammo, I’m sorry to say this, but you’re WRONG! With currently produced 1873 Single Action Army (SAA) Colts or modern replicas of the ’73 Peacemaker, you can fire either black powder or smokeless ammo in either frame style.

The frame system has nothing to do with smokeless powder. Colt did not guarantee any of its SAA revolvers for use with the then-new smokeless propellant until around serial number 180,000 (produced in 1898). What these frame designations actually tell the firearms user is which era of manufacture a particular single action represents.

The “black powder” moniker comes from the fact that the first Peacemaker Colts were made with a cylinder base pin retaining system that used a single screw, located at the front of the revolver’s frame.

In 1896, at around serial number 165,000, Colt changed over to the so-called “smokeless” frame, on which the cylinder base pin is held in place by spring-loaded, cross-pin screws. The “smokeless” frame system had been in use as early as 1877, on Colt’s double-action models.

The “smokeless” cross-pin system allows the user to remove the cylinder from the frame by depressing the cross-pin screws, pulling out the base pin and then removing the cylinder. The older single screw system  on the “black powder” frame requires a screwdriver to remove the base pin retention screw, then the cylinder.

While the more modern system is certainly faster in removing a cylinder, it does present a potential problem. If the cross-pin screws loosen up and the base pin slides forward during recoil of the gun, the cylinder can become stuck or actually fall out of the frame. (This has actually happened to me on a number of occasions.) This won’t happen in “black powder” frame-type six-guns, as long as the screw is firmly in place. During my decades of firing Peacemaker Colts and Colt clones, I have never experienced a malfunction due to the single screw system.

With modern–made arms, shootists wishing to be authentic to the Old West era will probably want the “black powder” frame (1873-96), while those wishing to represent the end of the 19th century up to modern times could opt for the so-called “smokeless” frame. I do advise those of you working with vintage Colt revolvers (serial numbers under 180,000) that you load them only with black powder cartridges—and then only after having them carefully inspected by a competent gunsmith.

Now that you know the difference between the two frame types of Peacemaker revolvers (old or new, Colt or replica), what are you waiting for? Skin that smokewagon, pardner!

Where to find it

If you are looking for a modern-made, “black powder” framed, Peacemaker-style revolver, the model is currently available from Colt’s Manufacturing Co. (Colt’s Custom Shop produces limited production runs of black powder framed SAAs).

The model is also available from replica arms suppliers:

• Cimarron Fire Arms

• Dixie Gun Works

• EMF Co.

• Navy Arms Co.

• Taylor’s & Co.

• Uberti (Benelli USA)
•• U.S. Fire Arms

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