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Thread: Red Willow Armory Ballard

  1. #1
    Boolit Man
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    Red Willow Armory Ballard

    I've got my eye on a Red Willow Armory Ballard for sale locally. Caliber 40-65. I know this company has been reborn a few times since the 90s but the quality of this rifle looks really good. Nice case coloring, double set triggers and tight lockup and looks like it was hardly ever used. My question is whether this is exclusively intended for black powder? Or were these made to specs that can tolerate modern smokeless powder? As always, thanks for any information that can be provided. Steve

  2. #2
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    Chill Wills's Avatar
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    Nice find!
    I don't think there is one single answer about smokeless in weaker actions.
    As always, "The devil is in the details".

    There is always an example of a crazy small smokeless powder charge to be argued can be safe.

    I know of no published data for Ballards of any era.
    Chill Wills

  3. #3
    Boolit Buddy
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    Red willow receivers were machined from 11L17, not as tough as the later Ballard Rifle and Cartridge receivers of 8620 but should be good for loads with BP equivalent pressures. Big limit on Ballard is design, they won't take high pressures. Properly fitted breechblocks are also a requirement.

  4. #4
    Boolit Man
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    I can find very little about these rifles online. And nothing in any of the forums about performance, reliability etc. Anyone have any experience with these and can testify on quality and reliability?

  5. #5
    Boolit Master marlinman93's Avatar
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    The Red Willow Ballards were the first reincarnation of the original Marlin Ballard rifles. The quality on most is very good, but not as good as those built in Cody, Wy. by Ballard Rifle Co. There have been occasional Red Willows found that don't match up to the usual great quality, so make your decision based on a close examination of fit and finish.
    The Red Willow also wasn't as exacting a copy of the originals as the later Coy Ballard, so not the parts interchangeability of a Cody to the original Marlins. I haven't heard of any breaking or issues with strength. But as mentioned they are a different steel, but still a good steel.
    I personally wouldn't have any issue shooting smokeless in it if you don't hotrod your loads. They're still better steel than the originals, and they get shot with smokeless all the time.

  6. #6
    Boolit Master

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    Quote Originally Posted by kootne View Post
    Red willow receivers were machined from 11L17, not as tough as the later Ballard Rifle and Cartridge receivers of 8620 but should be good for loads with BP equivalent pressures. Big limit on Ballard is design, they won't take high pressures. Properly fitted breechblocks are also a requirement.
    From 11L17 to 8620 is a HUGE improvement! 11L17 is of course 1117 with Lead added to it to improve machinability but either version, while decent material, is not nearly as strong as 8620 for a rifle receiver, I am surprised any outfit would use 1117 for a receiver never mind the Leaded version.
    Statistics show that criminals commit fewer crimes after they have been shot

  7. #7
    Boolit Man
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    All good stuff to hear. I'm still on the fence with this and have time to think about it. Anyone have any personal experience with a Red Willow Ballard?

  8. #8
    Boolit Master uscra112's Avatar
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    11L17 would probably be about the same yield strength as the steel that was used for Marlin's forged receivers. Remember that making steel in large lots and at a low prices was in the 1880s an art that was only just out of short pants. 8620 seems to me to overkill for what will still be a weak action. No Ballard can ever be as strong as, say, a High Wall or a Borchardt, no matter what steel is used. The thrust shoulder area is small, and the thrust vector is way higher than the shoulder. That puts a lot of bending stress on the breechblock, and there ain't an awful lot of metal there to resist it.
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  9. #9
    Boolit Master

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    Like Marliman says, you can run smokeless, just keep it mild.

    However, you've got a black powder action design, shooting a cartridge that was intended for a full case of black. A workable smokeless load is going to give you a lot of empty space, probably less consistent ignition, less consistent barrel time, and a little less accuracy because of it. Black powder is a pain in the butt for repeaters, revolvers, and the like. The single shots don't have as many nooks and crannies to contend with, and Hodgdon's Triple 7 is a pretty good, easily cleaned substitute. Rubbing alcohol instead of Hoppe's, oil as usual afterwards, and you're golden.

    In the case of a Ballard - any Ballard - shooting a classic big volume BPCR cartridge, the original family of propellants is really where "home" is. If you want to run smokeless as your primary, and have some flexibility doing it, a Highwall is probably your baby.
    WWJMBD?

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  10. #10
    Boolit Master

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    Quote Originally Posted by uscra112 View Post
    11L17 would probably be about the same yield strength as the steel that was used for Marlin's forged receivers. Remember that making steel in large lots and at a low prices was in the 1880s an art that was only just out of short pants. 8620 seems to me to overkill for what will still be a weak action. No Ballard can ever be as strong as, say, a High Wall or a Borchardt, no matter what steel is used. The thrust shoulder area is small, and the thrust vector is way higher than the shoulder. That puts a lot of bending stress on the breechblock, and there ain't an awful lot of metal there to resist it.
    All that is true but still 8620 is a lot stronger in all respects thus using 11L17 results in making a weak design even weaker vs the same design made from the stronger alloy! I assume your point is that using the stronger material will not compensate for the weak design enough to make using anything except light smokeless loads safe and I would 100% agree with that but still by using the 8620 there will be a greater safety margin.
    Statistics show that criminals commit fewer crimes after they have been shot

  11. #11
    Boolit Master marlinman93's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bigslug View Post
    Like Marliman says, you can run smokeless, just keep it mild.

    However, you've got a black powder action design, shooting a cartridge that was intended for a full case of black. A workable smokeless load is going to give you a lot of empty space, probably less consistent ignition, less consistent barrel time, and a little less accuracy because of it.
    I have a Ballard that was rebarreled to .40-65 W. and it's an original forged action. I feed it with 4198 and a 350 gr. bullet. It will shoot 1"-1.5" groups at 100 yds., and is very consistent accuracy out to 1,000 yds. My load chronographs at around 1350 fps, and it very comfortable to shoot. No issues with inconsistency in ignition that I can see? And obviously no accuracy issues with smokeless.
    But all 36 of my original Ballards get fired with smokeless loads.

  12. #12
    Boolit Master
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    Quote Originally Posted by oldred View Post
    All that is true but still 8620 is a lot stronger in all respects thus using 11L17 results in making a weak design even weaker vs the same design made from the stronger alloy! I assume your point is that using the stronger material will not compensate for the weak design enough to make using anything except light smokeless loads safe and I would 100% agree with that but still by using the 8620 there will be a greater safety margin.
    And I agree with you both. But, how much of a safety margin is it, how is it measured, and how does that apply to Joe Blow Shooter who needs to know what his parameters are? Best to err on the side of caution regardless of the steel it's made of.

  13. #13
    Boolit Master

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    Quote Originally Posted by gnoahhh View Post
    Best to err on the side of caution regardless of the steel it's made of.
    For sure and regardless of the steel used any smokeless loads should be moderate, while the 8620 version would undoubtedly be somewhat stronger than an 11L17 receiver that might make for a bit more comfortable safety margin but it still would not allow for heavier loading!
    Statistics show that criminals commit fewer crimes after they have been shot

  14. #14
    Boolit Master marlinman93's Avatar
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    Most people don't buy Ballard rifles to "hotrod" them. Used to be a lot of High Walls that got rebarreled and hotrodded, and they held up quite nicely. I owned a few in pretty hot calibers, but bought them to rebarrel. I did fire them just to see how they worked prior to rebarreling, and they were great.
    Ballard owners have known for a long time the action isn't among the strongest of the old single shots. But they were strong enough for calibers like .45-120, .45-110, .45-100, .44-100, etc. and still did just fine. My .44-100 #7 has been shooting fine since 1875, and hopefully will continue to for many decades.

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Abbreviations used in Reloading

BP Bronze Point IMR Improved Military Rifle PTD Pointed
BR Bench Rest M Magnum RN Round Nose
BT Boat Tail PL Power-Lokt SP Soft Point
C Compressed Charge PR Primer SPCL Soft Point "Core-Lokt"
HP Hollow Point PSPCL Pointed Soft Point "Core Lokt" C.O.L. Cartridge Overall Length
PSP Pointed Soft Point Spz Spitzer Point SBT Spitzer Boat Tail
LRN Lead Round Nose LWC Lead Wad Cutter LSWC Lead Semi Wad Cutter
GC Gas Check