Western Sharpshooters, 66th Illinois, Co. D

Reenactors portraying the Civil War sharpshooters and skirmish companies that were armed with state of the art target and repeating rifles.

Crimped Blanks Safety Test

Purpose: To affirm that the crimped brass and plastic black powder blanks, used in Civil War repeating rifles, are as safe as the paper blanks used in muzzle loaders and to dispell the myth that a broken piece of the crimp is a significant safety hazard.

Disclaimer: Blanks are inherently dangerous and they have been known to cause serious injury and death when misused and when safety parameters are disregarded. Common sense and firearms safety must prevail when blanks are used in reenactments and in training. In fact it should be noted, that the pointing of a firearm and firing a blank at someone or something violates one of the basic firearms safety rules.

Setup: On November 24, 2010, the tests were conducted on a 25 yard indoor range. The targets consisted of a normal man size paper silhoutte (PTI standard) with a piece of common 20lb white copy paper placed at centermass, serving as the witness paper. There were three rifles used in this test, with the muzzle loader being loaded with two different methods. The poured blackpowder in the 1861 Springfield served as the control, that being the most common blank form used in reenacting.

Testing Process: Each rifle and it's respective blanks were fired twice at the centermass witness paper, at distances of 5, 10, 15 and 20 feet for a total of eight rounds from each rifle.

     "Broken Crimp Projectile Test" The Spencer rifle and it's crimped plastic blank was used for this hypothetical test. Though it is a concern among some reenactors, there is no evidence suggesting that a piece of the crimp will break off from the rest of the case and become a projectile. However, for the purposes of this test, a piece of a crimp, from another blank hull was cut-off and placed over the poweder charge and foam but within the crimped end of the live blank, to simulate a piece of a broken crimp. The "broken tabs" were approximately a 3/16th of an inch square. This modified blank was fired in the open air, with no target to hinder it's flight. The only purpose was to determine how far the tab would fly.

Test Subjects:

  • 1861 Springfield .58 cal (Armi Sport) - Blank load used 70 gr FFFg black powder paper cartridge with poured (control)
  • 1861 Springfield .58 cal (Armi Sport) - Blank load used 70 gr FFFg black powder paper cartridge rammed w/toilet paper "bullet"
  • Henry rifle 44-40 (Uberti) - Blank load used 25 gr FFFg black powder crimped brass 44 magnum case (new brass only crimped once)
  • Spencer rifle 56-50 (Armi Sport) - Blank load used 30 gr FFFg black powder crimped plastic 32 ga shotgun hull (only crimped once)
  • Spencer rifle 56-50 (Armi Sport) - Blank load used 30 gr FFFg black powder modified crimped plastic 32 ga shotgun hull with inserted "broken tab"

Data: See table below for test data for the effects on the witness paper. 

Rifle & Blank

5 feet

10 feet

15 feet

20 feet

 1861 Springfield - poured (control) Significant penetration and tattooing by unburned powder Multiple indentations One indentation No damage
1861 Springfield - cartridge rammed Significant penetration and tattooing by unburned powder and toilet paper wad Toilet paper wad penetrated  No damage No damage
Henry - 25 gr FFFg Significant penetration and tattooing by unburned powder Multiple indentations No damage No damage
Spencer - 30 gr FFFg Significant penetration and tattooing by unburned powder Multiple indentations No damage No damage
Spencer - 30 gr FFFg (modified w/broken tab) Five modified blanks were fired with a "broken tab" See results below  

 

 

 

 

 (5 foot test results on witness paper)

Summary of Results:

  1. The maximum distance traveled by unburned grains of black powder, foam wads and toilet paper was less than 20 feet in all four test subjects.
  2. The rammed cartridge, Henry brass case and the Spencer shotgun hull had no effect on the witness paper at 15 feet. The poured (control) blank indented the witness paper at 15 feet. The blanks, where the blackpowder is tamped or crimped over, appear to combust at a faster rate and minimizes both the amount and range of unburned blackpowder.
  3. No crimps failed and no tabs broke off during the testing process.
  4. The hypothetical "broken tab's" furthest distance of flight was of 13' 9" with an average range of 13 feet. The tab landed slightly to the right of line-of-bore, a result of the rifle's right-hand twist rifling.

Conclusion: The crimped blanks from the Henry and Spencer do not pose a higher risk than a muzzle loading blank. Evidence suggests that the black powder, foam wads or the hypothetical broken crimped tab would not travel greater than 20 feet from the muzzle. Blanks from any Civil War period rifle should not be fired directly at anything within 10 yards (30 feet), as a primary safety parameter; and as an added measure, this distance should be doubled to 20 yards (60 feet). Care should be taken to use extreme elevation when discharging blanks within the 20 yard safety parameter.

     The most dangerous scenario in a reenactment would be if a ramrod was left in the barrel, after ramming a blank paper cartridge; or if a projectile, such as a stone, fell down the barrel on top of a blank charge. Both of which are more plausible than a broken crimp being projected down range. The author realizes that the ramming of cartridges is not allowed at most reenactments, but there are some "closed" events that have and do ram paper cartridges.

     The reloading and recrimping of star crimped brass cases is not advocated. The process of crimping, firing and expansion of the case mouth and recrimping again fatigues the brass case mouth. Star crimped brass should be a fire and forget blank.

Background: Todd Koster has been Civil War reenacting for the past 23 years, with both  muzzle loaders and repeating rifles. He is a member of the National Henry Rifle Company. He is a law enforcement and a SWAT tactics/firearms instructor with over 15 years of experience. In that time, he has incorporated the use of blanks into his law enforcement training, but using modern firearms.