How To Load The Colt Navy 1851Below is an exploded diagram of the thirty various working parts that made up the 1851 Navy revolver.

With so few parts actually making up the revolver there was not much that could go wrong with them, they were relatively cheap to mass produce and  they remained reliable revolvers for their operational lifetime.



How to Disassemble & Load the Colt Navy 1851

The lug on the side of the revolver is pushed out, it can be carefully tapped out to start. This will free the barrel from the frame of the gun.

The lug is pushed so its nearly completely out of the frame, but not enough so it drops to the ground only to be lost! The barrel is then free of the cylinder and frame of the gun.

The barrel can them be pulled away from the cylinder in one easy movement.

The three basic components of the revolver are now apart and the gun can be cleaned and oiled or a new cylinder can be replaced.

No screw drivers or tools are ever needed to " field strip " guns like this...or any guns past or present, as a lost screwdriver renders a great disability to disassemble the gun.

Below is a slightly abridged review that was sent to me, it is from a modern day shooter and his perspective on handling the Colt Navy 1851:

 "My .36 caliber Colt Navy was loaded with Swiss Black power number 2 (3Fg), CCI number 11 percussion caps and a 96 grain lead ball. The loading process takes longer than first thought, between ten to fifteen minutes.  Maybe in the days of the old west, as they were used to loading the gun, it would take less, maybe six to eight minutes.

For the loading process I used a wooden pistol stand so I didn't have to hold the gun in my hand. The revolver is seated with the butt on the bottom leaving the barrel upwards. Before shooting, I had preloaded several  little plastic tubes with 26 grain of black power that are then carried in my ammunition box.



To load the gun, you first have to cock the hammer halfway, thus allowing the cylinder to turn easily.  At the firing range a little funnel is placed into each of the chambers in turn, and the tube is then  simply emptied into it.

Next I take a lead ball, which I found to be a little oversized, and place it on top of the chamber, then with the under leaver, I press the ball firmly into the chamber, it trims the ball slightly leaving a small lead ring that is wiped away. This is repeated with all of the remaining five chambers in the cylinder.

Some grease is then smeared on top of the chambers, this was traditionally done to waterproof the cylinders, stop chain-fire of other cylinders and to keep dirt out, I actually used a mixture of French fries grease and bees wax.

When that process is done I then place the percussion caps on top of the small nipples. You have to be careful here though, as they can easily drop off or get in between the cylinder and the hammer, which if over-looked would result in a malfunction. You can also easily damage the caps, resulting in a misfire as it would be more difficult if you have  big fingers!



So, now you are ready to shoot.  First you manually cock the hammer with your thumb, when the hammer is cocked, a small notch that is cut into the end of the hammers tip is visible, you use that notch to aim, lining it up with a small bead on the end of the muzzle.

There is now a moment of expectation, and it gets a little exciting...will the first shot go off? Putting pressure on the trigger will drop the hammer, first the percussion cap ignites, this then ignites the black power, the expanding gasses force the lead ball through the barrel...all in a millisecond, and hopefully into the target! "

Below is a screen-grab of a Colt Navy being fired (not the reviewed one as that was fired indoors on a range) and in the first photo we can see the percussion cap igniting milliseconds before it ignites the powder to fire the shot.

In modern pistols, the primer/percussion cap  is enough to fire the bullet up the barrel on its own and seeing this photo makes it easy to see it fires up a lot of burning pressure.




" You experience a deep low thundering boom rather than a bang and you will see lots of clouds of blue smoke, this is all very thrilling. As a safety precaution, before I  cock the hammer for the second shot, I like to flip the gun so the spent percussion cap can drop to ground, instead of maybe of falling in between the cylinder and hammer.

The second shot can then be fired, I repeated this process five times, resulting in five shots...the sixth shot however, was a misfire. The percussion cap did not  ignite! it was probably damaged in the process of placing it on the nipple, this is very frustrating. At the firing range I fired a total of eighteen shots, but between five to six shots were misfires, all due to damaged or faulty caps.

The gun is held easily, I have small hands and with this gun that’s fine. With big hands you could only get two fingers positively on the grip, with the little finger going underneath it. Holding the gun for me though, was very natural. The balance was right for me, aiming was a pleasure, although the weight at over two pounds is heavier then my modern Walther P99 QA.

When firing there is only a small amount of recoil and the barrel only rises a little bit, meaning it’s easy to aim and shoot.  The accuracy is not too bad, keeping in mind I am a first time black power shooter.

On the paper target hanging twelve meters away, I fired eighteen shots and counted sixteen hits, two shots went too high. That’s because my aim was at the center of the target, aiming the revolver slightly center low, resulted in all the shots being on the target.  I even managed a bulls-eye, see my target below that I sent to the webmaster...


All in all, I like this gun, it gives you a lot of pleasure and fun."

The detailed review was sent to my email address by Mr. D. J. Van (full name kept private) Chairman of a pistol shooting club in Europe. Thanks once again D J. Van


Loading the Colt Navy 1851. Pictorial:

Below is a step by step pictorial guide on how to load the Colt Navy 1851.  This is what gunfighters like Wild Bill Hickok and J.W. Hardin had to do after every time they had fired their revolver.

In the days of the Old West, making every shot count was vital, as re-loading an empty revolver was a time consuming process.

With the revolver reassembled, the hammer is set to 'half cock' to enable the cylinder to revolve.

In this position if the pistol was loaded and the hammer were to fall, detonation would not happen as there would not be enough force off the hammer to ignite to percussion caps...or so they tell me!

The necessary 'ingredients' the powder flask, ball shot and percussion caps, laid out ready to load up the revolver.

The assembled revolver is inverted and a charge of black powder is poured into each hole in the cylinder, one at a time.

The amount of dispensed powder can be seen here in the cylinder, its about eighty percent filled to the top, this would equal a measure of about 26 grains powder.

Next, the .36 or .44 ball shot depending on the caliber,  is seated into the charged cylinder. The ball shot is of a very close tolerance and is an exact and tight fit.

The ball shot is then rammed down the cylinder via the use of the ram rod that is situated under the barrel.

The ram rod is pulled down to its furthest extremity. This ensures that the ball shot is fully seated and that the powder is compressed to aid ignition.

The ball shot is seen here correctly seated into the charged cylinder. As the ball shot is such a tight fit it wont roll out when the gun is turned over.

A small amount of grease is then smeared across the top of each hole in the loaded cylinder.  This keeps dirt and water out that could malfunction the revolver when its finally fired.  Any sort of grease, soap, wax, or lard can be used for this purpose.

The revolver is then turned around, the hammer is set to half cock and the percussion caps are seated onto the little nipples recessed into the end of the cylinder.

This part of the loading operation has to be done with great care so as not to damage the caps.

The hammer is then gently lowered and the revolver is then ready to be fired.

The hammer has to be cocked by the thumb before the trigger can be pulled, this is known as SA or 'Single Action' operation and all old west guns operated the same.

A YouTube  video below shows how to load and fire this great old gun.





Page created August 9th 2007.   Updated December 30th 2012