The gun in question is a normal, reliable and non-specialized .45 revolver. The idealized character is the last descendant of a lineage of carriers of this gun, considered by them legendary.

Is it possible that this gun 'survives' (continues to function properly) for thousands of years without rusting or atomic decay, using only the religious zealot-like care of the lineage of carriers?

And, assuming that it can 'survive'. Can the ammunition for it be created with used shells of the same gun? Is there a way to craft new shells, without a big apparatus, like in your own home?

  • 29
    $\begingroup$ Should we assume that a "Ship of Theasus" gun would violate the spirit of the question (That is, old worn parts are replaced with new parts and all parts have been replaced many times over the course of history but never all at once.). $\endgroup$
    – hszmv
    Commented Feb 3, 2020 at 17:11
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Do you mean thousands of years of being used frequently? Absolutely not. You will need to replace parts after only a few years. $\endgroup$
    – puppetsock
    Commented Feb 3, 2020 at 17:21
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Sure. Sorry. Thousands of years. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 3, 2020 at 17:21
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ And what about rarely using it? Given it is a legendary artifact. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 3, 2020 at 17:24
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ The detonation cap inside the shell needs mercury fulminate to set off the black-powder, that'll keep your "alchemist-cleric " busy. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 3, 2020 at 17:44

4 Answers 4


I'm going to address the components of your question in reverse order.

There is a way to craft new shells, without a big apparatus, like in your own home?

Absolutely. You don't even really need power tools, although they help. The question is how LONG you can keep reloading the same brass until it doesn't work anymore. I've seen people state that they've been reloading .45 shells since the '80s without difficulty, as long as you're conservative with not putting more powder in than they were designed for.

Is it possible that this gun 'survives' (continue to function properly) for thousands of years without rusting or atomic decaying, using only the religious zealot-like care of the lineage of carriers?

The real problem is not so much atomic decay and rust, it's usage. A zealously maintained steel weapon surviving completely intact isn't only plausible, they exist today. There are swords in Japan that are said to be as much as 1500 years old and still basically look new. There are some cases of European swords almost as old that have been found in similar condition.

This is particularly true with firearms, since gunpowder puts a lot of force on the structure of the weapon. The biggest problem would be the rifling in the barrel, since there's just no way to keep that from being eroded over time as you use the weapon. There are also precision components like springs and so forth in the trigger mechanism that would be subject to failure over a really long period of time.

EDIT: Puppetsock provided a lovely link in the comments that puts some data against this. You're looking at ~5,000 rounds before the springs and so forth need replacement, and 50,000 rounds for the barrel. That sounds like a lot, but a weapon in regular use might see that much usage in just a few generations.

TLDR: For both the ammunition and the weapon itself, it's not how long the weapon is around, it's how often it's fired that's the critical factor.

If your idea is that there's a Navy Colt .45 that spends decades at a time in a gun safe being meticulously maintained and once a generation it's used to ceremonially execute someone, yeah, no problem at all. I have no doubt that some archaeologist in the year 5000 AD is going to run across someone's collection of AR15s in a sealed gun safe that's been buried in a flooded basement for three thousand years, and those guns will be as good as the day they were made.

If you're imagining something like the Gunslinger in Stephen King's Dark Tower where's he's putting literally hundreds of rounds through the thing on a regular basis, no way no how. The barrel would be dead in a couple decades, if not sooner.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Commented Feb 13, 2020 at 16:09

And, assuming that it can 'survive'. The ammunition for it can be created with used shells of the same gun? There is a way to craft new shells, without a big apparatus, like in your own home?

Yes, it can be done and people do reload shells. For example, I have read that the Sioux Indians in the 19th century invented a way to reload shells with loose black powder and homemade bullets, and no doubt that was cheaper than buying loaded shells.

There was even an episode of Death Valley Days "A Bullet for the Captain" 03 January 1959, with a fictionalized version where a trader is accused of selling ammunition to the Sioux but it is discovered they are reloading shells.


So if the 19th century Sioux Indians still basically living in the stone age could invent a way to reload shells, I would assume that your characters could probably find a way to reload used shells with gunpowder and homemade bullets.

  • $\begingroup$ Yes, presuming you have a reliable supply of powder and primers, most brass casings can be reloaded multiple times (perhaps even dozens, but it depends on the precise characteristics of the gun and round) $\endgroup$
    – Shalvenay
    Commented Feb 4, 2020 at 0:36

Making new powder,percussion caps,shot and casings is not exceptionally difficult. Old casings can be melted and remade when they get too deformed. Lead is very common for the bullet tips themselves and can be molded using a campfire with the right tools. A common method when out of brass for casings is to use a cardboard casing. To help prevent fouling the barrel you'll want to wrap the lead in paper using lard to make it stick.

Overall assuming you don't replace the barrel,spring or need to do repairs you should be fine. You can use either blackpowder or smokeless powder;although blackpowder will be easier to manufacture even if using percussion caps. If the weapon is only used rarely it will need fewer repairs and as a result last much longer. Properly stored and maintained it can easily last a few thousand years. Longer if parts are swapped out repeatedly over time. As is a revolver is a fairly good choice for the situation as they are less prone to mechanical failure.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Specifically revolvers don't particularly care about ammunition quality, since they don't use the power of firing to cycle. I wouldn't use paper cartridges in a revolver designed for brass cartridges though, I'm pretty sure you'd get a lot of pressure out the back of the chamber that way. $\endgroup$
    – Deolater
    Commented Feb 4, 2020 at 14:13
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ @Deolater If you have enough left of the original case head (which you'd need anyway to hold the primer) it will still seal the chamber. The backward thrust is taken by the "recoil shield" even with new ammunition. $\endgroup$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Commented Feb 4, 2020 at 16:52
  • $\begingroup$ And there were muzzle loaded revolvers, too. @ZeissIkon $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 5, 2020 at 15:39
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Prof.Falkencontractbreached True, I own one (it's a hoot to shoot). However, those generally had to start that way. I could see converting a cartridge revolver, and percussion caps are easier to make than Boxer primers -- but if you have the means to make the primers, there's a good reason cartridges took over from cap and ball almost overnight. $\endgroup$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Commented Feb 5, 2020 at 15:52
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ making new casings is difficult enough you need a certain level of technology to do it. with the right tools it is doable. the real issue will be replacing losses, smelting brass is not easy. you will have fewer and fewer shells each time. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Feb 5, 2020 at 21:36

According to Concealed Nation, it takes 5-6 years of 1,000 rounds a month (72k-84k rounds) for normal-grade barrels before any difference is noticed. Some high-grade competitive barrels can last for over 100,000 rounds of normal ammunition. Depending on how handy/connected the original owner was, there are apparently some alloys out there that make the normally used steel wet their pants.

This Thread talks about super alloy barrels made out of things like 17-4PH or H13, however the main constraint was the price - 2-3 normal barrels could be bought for the same price as one super-alloy barrel, although keep in mind that the design was for military machine guns operating at 350 rpm sustained fire, not standard revolvers. One of the comments mentions that nitriding or chrome-plating would also help extend the life of your barrel.

This Patent contains all the information needed to make an "Extreme duty machine gun barrel," where most of the problems listed in production would only apply to bulk-made parts, not artisan guns (i.e., it is difficult to apply chrome in large production runs, and prevents the barrel from firing at 800 F or higher for prolonged periods of time). Since you have 1) a revolver, and 2) a coveted revolver, going for the longer-life option would help cut down on the number of part replacements. Since the gun is so cared for, none of the other drawbacks would come to pass, so you can go ham with it.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .