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Say a 1880 gunsmith traveled to a medieval time period. I just wanted to know if it would be logically possible for someone like him to be able to make additional ammunition for a colt model 1873 single action army in a medieval time period (like around the 10th-12th centuries). Like even if he had the know how to make weapons and ammo would he have the proper tools, supplies, and resources to do so in his new found situation?

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    $\begingroup$ Not a duplicate, but you may want to look at the answers here: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/145878/… here: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/10610/… and here: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/131349/… $\endgroup$
    – Cumehtar
    Commented Jun 20, 2019 at 12:07
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding. Please take the tour and have a look at the help center. Could you please clarify: Does the person only need to recreate ammunition to a weapon they have or do they need to create a firearm first and then ammunition? $\endgroup$
    – Elmy
    Commented Jun 20, 2019 at 12:09
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    $\begingroup$ "Medieval" covers a long time period, but location matters almost as much - Paris in 500 AD was very different to Paris in 1400AD and both were very different to what is now Port Moresby throughout that period. Would you please be more exact regarding when and where. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 20, 2019 at 12:37
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    $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate of Could medieval people produce automatic firearms if they had access to the schematics? just changing the particular firearm does not change the answer. Also see worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/93949/… $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Jun 20, 2019 at 13:12
  • $\begingroup$ I'm going to VTC as a duplicate of the linked question, even though there's a basic argument that says the older the bullet (from our perspective), the more likely it can be done. Obviously a musket ball and black powder could be made. The Colt bullets might be made. Modern steel-jacket bullets can't be made. However, I'm not thrilled with hosting a unique question for every gun type, thus the VTC. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Jun 20, 2019 at 14:09

2 Answers 2

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I would say, it's not very likely. There are four distinct parts that a revolver cartridge consists of - a bullet, gunpowder, case and primer.

Bullet is easy enough - lead bullets were used in the slings since the Roman times, so casting lead to acceptably uniform size and shape is not that hard.

Gunpowder is harder. At that time (10th-12th century) gunpowder is not familiar in Europe yet, it will come only in the middle of the 13th century. I think your gunsmith would be able to manufacture the gunpowder for himself, if he has enough knowledge of chemistry, but that will be a time-consuming and difficult undertaking.

Primers are harder than that again. Mercury fulminate was not known until the 19th century. It's production is also in the scope of a single person with access to resources, but the necessary knowledge of chemistry is greater again, since your gunsmith would need to produce nitric acid, pure mercury and ethanol first under high medieval conditions. The chemical knowledge on its own moves your character out of 'simple gunsmith' to 'gentleman naturalist' category. Building the chemical laboratory and gathering all necessary resources would be difficult too.

Surprisingly, making a case itself seems to be the biggest problem. I have found this description of cartridge manufacturing process from the 19th century. As you can see, you need to have uniform plates of brass of consistent thickness first and then several machines to form them into cartridges. I do not think that making all that by hand without building the machines first is possible - even such early cartridges as .45LC have pretty close tolerances.

In conclusion, I would say that the scenario you describe is pretty unlikely. It would be slightly easier for your character if he wouldn't need to manufacture his own brass - either reloading old cartridges until he runs out, or using an earlier percussion revolver like Colt Dragoon.

But even in the case where the character doesn't need to make his own brass, he still needs to manufacture both black powder and primers. For that he needs (1) to be extremely lucky to be able to establish an alchemy lab, (2) to have enough social connections to be left alone to pursue his alchemy experiments, (3) to have access to necessary chemical resources and finances and (4) several years time to refine his process and get first results.

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The materials to make black powder were always present. Charcoal is common, saltpeter is easily made from farm waste, sulfur was traded across Europe by medieval times. Medieval alchemists were able to make nitric acid by the beginning of the 13th century, which means mercury fulminate for primers was in reach for anyone who knew how to make it.

The only really difficult part of this (other than years of work creating a trade infrastructure to obtain materials) is building the equipment to deep draw brass for cartridges. In the real world, that was an 18th century invention, though for black powder use solder seam tubing soldered to a stamped brass head might work (once per cartridge, anyway).

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