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Candle Cartridges

posted Jan 16, 2011, 11:07 AM by Peter Lucas   [ updated Jul 19, 2011, 8:18 AM ]
    A long forgotten method handling the shot charges for muzzle loading shotguns is the
"Candle Cartridge."   The Candle Cartridge was first described by Colonel Peter Hawker in the Sixth Edition of his book Instructions To Young Sportsmen, In All That Relates To Guns And Shooting published in 1830.   The First Edition of Instructions To Young Sportsmen had been published in 1814.  In the succeeding years, the book was continually updated and new editions were published.  By 1830 when the Sixth Edition was published, Instructions To Young Sportsmen was considered the bible for up to date information regarding equipment and methods for hunting through out England, North America and the remainder of the British Empire. 

    The Candle Cartridge consisted of a shot charge encased in tallow and then wrapped in paper.   When hunting, the Candle Cartridge eliminated the need to handle loose shoot.  In addition to being more convenient, period sportsman believed that the Candle Cartridge improved the effectiveness of the their shotguns. 

Historic Descriptions of the Candle Cartridge

Colonel Peter Hawker

Colonel Peter Hawker was a very active sportsman, who wrote 'Advice to Young Sportsmen' which was first published in 1814.  Through the years, the book was continually updated and at least nine editions were published by Colonel Hawker.  The book was also adapted for the American audience in 1847.
Hawker did not provide a great deal of information regarding the Candle Cartridge in the Sixth Edition of Instructions To Young Sportsmen (published in 1830).  However, he does provide instructions for making the Candle Cartridge:

Candle Cartridges. Fill a socket, within the size of your cylinder, with melted tallow, and when it has cooled so far as to be about the consistence of thick cream, pour your shot 1 in, and shake it well together. When nearly cold, close all by a little pressure on the top; and, when quite hard, shut up your cartridge, and you are ready for action. Just go and see how this shoots. Though I condemn tallow confined in wire, I can see no objection to it when merely covered with light paper.  am indebted to my friend Captain Ward for this discovery, and a schedule of its excellent performance

 Instructions To Young Sportsmen, In All That Relates To Guns And Shooting Sixth Edition (Riling 1830).

    In the Ninth Edition (published in 1844) of his book, Colonel Hawker describes an alternative method making Candle Cartridges:

We have now an improved method of making these cartridges:-Get a tin, or copper cylinder, within the size of your caliber, and stop it up, at one end, with a piece of either wood or cork-no matter what -previously to filling it. Then melt some tallow, till quite warm, and pour it on your charge of shot, where the tallow will find its way into all the interstices. Let the cartridge remain till quite cold, and it will come out as well formed as any mould candle. You have then only to case it in thin paper, for which sufficient allowance must be made in the size of your molding-cylinder ; so that, when all is complete, the cartridge will fit nicely to the caliber of your gun. If you want many of these cartridges, you should have plenty of moulds; otherwise you lose much time in waiting for them to get properly cold and hard. The candle cartridges (like Eley's) should be well rammed, in order to prevent their “balling.

Instructions To Young Sportsmen, In All That Relates To Guns And Shooting, by Peter Hawker Ninth Edition (Riling 1844)

    On of the few other sources which mention the use of Candle Cartridges for hunting is Bush Wanderings of a Naturalist by Horace William Wheelwright.  Wheelwright was an English born hunter and writer.  In 1852, Wheelwright migrated to Australia in a search of gold. When the gold mining proved unprofitable, he became a professional game shooter to supply the Melbourne market. His book, is an excellent source of information about of the area around Melbourne in the 1850s. Wheelwright mentions the use of Candle Cartridges for hunting ducks: 

  In duck-shooting, in all cases except at flight, when I liked a loose charge best, I used the candle cartridge, and I found them quite equal to Eley's, except that they occasionally ball the shot. As every one may not know how to make them, I will give my receipt. Procure a tin cylinder that will exactly fit into the muzzle of your gun, about three inches long, something like a candle-mould; stick a cork in the bottom end and set it on a table; put the shot in it, melt some candle-grease in a ladle, which pour on to the shot till they are covered. Let it stand to cool; take out the cork when the tallow is hard, and shove out the cartridge; wrap a piece of thin paper round, and it is ready for use. I once killed a pair of black duck stone-dead at eighty yards with a candle cartridge: this was perhaps a chance shot, but I could always reckon on my birds at fifty yards; and I know this is about fifteen yards further than I could do with a loose charge. I shot with a single pigeongun, No. 6 gauge, 6 drams of powder, and a two-ounce cartridge.

    Bush wanderings of a naturalist: or, Notes on the field sports and fauna of Australia Felix by Horace William Wheelwright; Routledge, Warne, & Routledge, 1861

    NOTE: The use of Eley Cartridges was discussed in a prior Article. 

     The candle cartridge was apparently used in both England (and its colonies) and the United States.  A variation of the candle cartridge can be found in a patent issued to B.L. Budd on March 25, 1862 under United States Patent Number 34,806.  The primary difference between the cartridge patented by B.L. Budd and the candle cartridge described by Colonel Hawker is that the Budd cartridge is not warped in paper.    Here is Mr. Budd's description of his invention from the patent application:

My invention is an improved method of making fixed charges of shot, ·whereby the charge is held together with its appropriate wads without requiring any envelope of paper, canvas, or wires, as common with the fixed charges hitherto used; and it consists arranging the proper quantity of shot for the for  desired charge between two wads, and then filling the interstices with some melted substance which, on cooling, will be both sufficiently tenacious to hold the mass together, and at the same time shall be brittle enough to permit the shots to separate when discharged from the gun

    The manner of making these cartridges was described in the Patent Application as follows:

Figure 1 from the B.L. Budd Patent Application.

The manner in which fixed charges suitable for fowling-pieces may be prepared is as follows: A short tube of metal is made  having a bore corresponding with that of the gun to be fitted. Into one end of this I fit an ordinary"cut wad "-say of felt-then, holding upward the other end, I put in the proper quantity of shot; then pour in the melted substance, to just cover the shot after filing the interstices, and upon this place another cut wad. When cold the mass may be pushed out of the tube, and is ready for use, as the shot and t.he wads will adhere together in solid form, and as seen in section in Fig. I.

Many substances may be employed for the:filling, as spermaceti, tallow, wax, as well as some of the metallic alloys which melt at low temperatures, and are sufficiently brittle for the purpose. 'these ·will necessarily vary according to the character for scattering which ma be desired for the especial charge. ·

    The patent application refers to spermaceti as the first substance which is suitable for holding the cartridge together.  Spermaceti is a waxy substance found in the head of Sperm Whales. Obviously, it is no longer available.

    The patent also indicates that wads can be dispensed with or alternatively a metal wire can be used to help the wads in place, if necessary. 

It will be obvious that for some uses and with some composition the wads need not be employed at all, as the mass may be sufficiently held together without them; but when used, if a composition which does not adhere with due tenacity, a wire of lead may be place centrally through the charge ...

    While not truly a "candle cartridge", a closely related muzzleloading shot cartridge was patented by Abbot Davis in 1855 under
Illustration of clay cartridge from United States Patent Number 12,545
. The Davis patent differs from candle cartridge primarily in the material used to hold the cartridge together. Rather than wax or tallow, the Davis patent uses clay or other plastic material as the binding agent.
The patent application also calls for the cartridge to be felted or covered with a fibrous material. The Davis cartridge is described as follows in the patent application:

In  manufacturing such a cartridge, I mix the shot with wet clay. earth, or other plastic material, that when dry will readily crumble apart, using no such of than will be sufficient to fill the cavities between  the shot when they are laid together and  in close contact.. The mass of shot and plastic material is next to be worked into ball cylinders or such forms as it may be desirable for the cartridge to have. This done, the same is to be rolled in contact with fibers of wool, cotton, or other suitable materials so to cause them to compact, felt together·, adhere to, and cover its external surface, and thereby form a coating or  casing of sufficient strength or tenacity when dry to maintain the shot in place under transportation or or while the cartridge is being rammed into a gun-barrel.  

Attempts to Recreate the Candle Cartridge.

   I have wanted to give Candle Cartridges a try for sometime. My original batch of candle cartridges was based on the description found in Instructions To Young Sportsmen.   One cold evening, I decided to make up a batch for testing the following weekend.   The initial test was based on my standard hunting load of 1 ounce of shot propelled by 75 grains (2 3/4 drams) of FFFg.   No. 4 shot was selected since that is shot size which I generally shoot at pheasants. 

The first step in step in the process was to find some hollow cylinders which could be used as molds.  I had decided to use me Beretta Tri-Centennial Over and Under for testing the Candle Cartridge.  This gun has a jug choke, so the bore diameter at its smallest point is approximately .729 inches.  I figured that some empty 16 gauge hulls would make a serviceable molds and leave adequate room to wrap the Candle Cartridge in light weight paper.  Unfortunately, I
could not locate my stash of empty 16 gauge hulls, so I had to use 20 gauge hulls.

    The molds were made by cutting the 20 hulls off just above the base wad.  A short section of 5/8 dowel was used a stopper to seal the bottom end of the mold. 

The instructions for making Candle Cartridges called for "tallow" to be used as the binder.  Tallow is a rendered form of beef or mutton fat which is solid at room temperature.  Beef tallow is available on Ebay and mutton tallow has be available from Dixie Gun Works in the past (they are currently out of stock and do not know if more will be available).   While not completely historically accurate, the "Value Shortening" made from animal fat and vegetable oil and sold at the local grocery store is also a close approximation of a generic tallow.  Since I had only a small amount of Mutton tallow left, I decided to use the "Value Shortening" from the grocery store as the binder.

    Following the instructions from Colonel Hawker's Book, I poured one ounce of No 4 shot into the molds and covered the shot with melted shortening.  The shortening was allowed to harden in the freezer over night.  In the morning the shot and tallow "candle" could be easily pressed out the molds using a 5/8 inch dowel.  The "candle" was wrapped in 9 pound onion skin paper using wall paper paste a glue to hold the paper in place.  The result was a nice little package of shot which was quite easy to handle as long as it remained cold.  Given that I live in Colorado, this was not a problem during early January.  In warmer weather, the cartridges could be made stiffer by adding some paraffin or bees wax to the tallow.  The completed Candle Cartridges each weighed about 1 1/8 ounces; meaning that the shortening portion of the cartridge added approximately one eighth of an ounce to the payload. 

    The information contained in Instructions To Young Sportsmen is silent as to whether the Candle Cartridge is to used in connection with wads, or to be loaded directly over the powder charge.  In the various editions of his book, Colonel Hawker had discussed the Eley Cartridge at some length.  Colonel Hawker wrote that while the Eley Cartridge could be used without other wadding, the Eley Cartridge produced superior patterns if an over the powder wad was place between the powder and the cartridge. As a result, I decided to use a 1/8 inch nitro-card between the powder and my Candle cartridge.  An over the shot wad was used to keep the cartridge in place.

    For comparison purposes, I also fired an equal number of loose charges using 1 1/8 ounces of No. 4 shot powered by 75 grains of FFFg.  The same wad combination was used with this loose charge.  The 1 1/8 ounce load contains a few more pellets than my Candle Cartridge, however, since the completed Candle Cartridge weighed 1 1/8 ounces, I felt that a shot charge of equal weight would be a fairer comparison.
    Testing was done at 20 yards using a Beretta Tri-Centennial O/U with a jug choke.  The gun will generally produce patterns which approximate improved cylinder patterns.  The barrels were fowled by shooting three loads through each barrel prior to firing the test strings. Since it was unseasonably cold on the day of the initial testing only four test patterns (two from each barrel) were fired using the Candle Cartridge and four test patterns with the loose charge.   Here are the test patterns:

 Candle Cartridge  
 Pellets Loose Charge    

10" -- 47
20" -- 43
30" --  9
Total 99  

10" -- 39
20" -- 46
30" -- 28
Total 113

10" -- 50
20" -- 48
30" --  8
Total 106

10" -- 49
20" -- 50
30" --  6
Total 105

10" -- 50
20" -- 43
30" -- 12
Total 105

10" -- 50
20" -- 49
30" -- 15
Total 114

10" -- 49
20" -- 47
30" --  8
Total 104

10" -- 39
20" -- 52
30" -- 21
Total 112
 10" -- 49
20" -- 44
30" --  9
Total  102
 10" -- 44
20" -- 50
30" -- 17
Total 111

    In reviewing the results, remember that the loose charge contained 1/8 ounce more shot or approximately 16 pellets of No 4 shot.  While the improvement in pattern density was not overwhelming, these initial tests indicate that the Candle Cartridges did preform better than the loose charge.  Even with fewer pellets, the Candle Cartridge delivered more pellets in the inner core of the pattern.  However, given the limited number of test shots which I fired, it is too early to draw and definitive conclusions, other than more testing is warranted. 

  Following some discussions on a muzzleloading forum, I decided to modify the manner in which the  “candle cartridges”  were constructed.  The new method made it much easier to construct the cartridges. With the new method, a  piece of paper was placed inside the candle mold prior to pouring in the binder.  The shot was poured into the paper liner and then the entire cartridge was filled with the binder.   I also used a mix of 80% Crisco and 20% paraffin as the binder.   Unfortunately, the  patterning results were generally disappointing.   

    For these tests, the candle cartridges had a one ounce load of Number 6 shot with an equal volume of FFFg. The wad column consisted of one nitro card as the over the powder wad and one thin over shot wad.  The "loose charge" groups were also shot with one ounce of Number  6 shot, an equal volume of FFFg and the same wad column.  The tests were performed with a Beretta Tercentennial at 20, 30 and 40 yards.

     The following table shows the number pellet strikes in the center 10 inches of the pattern, the number of pellets in the 10-20 inch area, the number of pellets in the 20-30 inch area and the total pellets in the center 30 inch circle of the pattern. The loose charges were fired first. The bore was sprayed with water between shots to help break up the fowling on the loose charge shots.  There was no need to use water on the candle cartridges, as the bore remained very clean between shots due to the presence of the crisco/paraffin binder in the cartridges.     


Loose Charges

Candle cartridges









20 yard targets










Loose 1/candle 9










loose 2/candle 10










loose 3/candle 11










loose 4/candle 12




















30 yard targets










loose 5/candle 5










loose 6/candle 6










loose 7/candle 7










loose 8/candle 8




















40 yard targets










loose 9/candle 1










loose 10/candle 2










loose 11/candle 3










loose 12/candle 4




















    (Note: It appears that I failed to fire all four patterns at 30 yards on the loose test and all four patterns with the candle cartridge at 40 yards)

    Based on this sample, the loose charges generally  out preformed the candle cartridges.  The only exception is at 40 yards.  However, given the variability in the results, at this range, I do not believe the improvement to be statistically significant. 

    The next set of tests will be preformed with candle cartridges constructed in the original manner.