Smith & Wesson’s self lubricating bullets

The Revised Edition of The Modern American Pistols and Revolvers by A. C. Gould was published in 1896. It contains a thorough a description of the state of the art of pistol shooting before the turn of the century. I have uploaded the PDF to Scribd where it can be read and downloaded.

On Page 140 the author discusses Smith & Wesson’s self lubricating bullets. A copper tube containing lubricant was inside the lead bullet. Behind the tube was a brass stopper. When the cartridge was fired, the stopper was pushed through the copper tube forcing the lubricant through four holes in the bullet. The lubricant supposedly reduced fouling and increased accuracy. A. C. Gould wrote …

Viewing this cartridge solely on the grounds of accuracy, it is in every way a superior cartridge. The radical departure in its construction caused me to watch vigilantly for irregularities in shooting, but I discovered none. There was not a keyhole in several hundred shots fired, not an unaccountable; and while I am not prepared to say that it was the most accurate cartridge known, I do not hesitate to state that I have never seen any more accurate central-fire cartridges when fired from a revolver.

I think modern target shooters would be horrified by the thought of a bullet containing moving parts and changing shape and weight inside the barrel!

[ Many thanks to Sven (Defense and Freedom) for emailing me the book. ]

Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


  • Mike

    I’m guessing the movement of the piston, and the subsequent delivery of the lubricant, is completed quite early in the bullet’s travel down the bore. No reason why it would not be a good, accurate bullet, at least by the standards of the time. Probably expensive, though.

  • Tam

    In the end, of course, it turned out to be easier to just, you know, use lubricated bullets. 🙂

  • Jim

    Not to mention it’s disgusting and creepy.

  • Ramsey

    The key to accuracy is precision, so if all of the parts move the same way every time it doesn’t matter. That is the key to shooting spring powered airguns accurately, you barely support the rifle and allow it to move like it was on an artillery sledge. They even call it the artillery hold.

  • armed_partisan

    That’s wild! I’ll bet it would make a mess with modern pressures, and the exposed holes would pick up dirt and grime which would be sure to wear out your barrel. It must have been a huge PITA to make those.

  • Gary

    Changing weight and shape inside the barrel … no problem as the projectile is stabilised by the rifling. OUTSIDE the barrel, biiig problem as witness tracer ammunition and the infamous Gyro Jet cartridge.

    Needless to say, I am open to correction. Beautiful old image, by the way.

  • Many public domain books such as this are available for free via Google Books. In this case, search for “Arthur Corbin Gould”.

    It should be noted that A.C. Gould’s magazines “The Rifle” and “Shooting & Fishing” are considered the direct ancestors of the NRA’s “American Rifleman” magazine.

  • Since this was intended for revolvers I wonder how much (if any) of the lube made it past the cylinder gap? I’d guess most would be left around the rear of the barrel and on the cylinder face.

    Since the bullet would resemble a foster slug or minnie ball after the lube was forced out I’d assume accuracy as well as gas seal to barrel would be excellent.

    And I wouldn’t want to know what that would cost to manufacture today either…….

    • Arrkhal

      That’s a good point. I would seriously bet all of the lube would squirt out before the bullet even budged out of the case. Not really any better than smearing some lubricant onto each round as you load it. If they had a lube that wouldn’t melt and run out of the bullet in hot weather, you could just smear that onto the outside!

  • Did this have something to do with the absence of clean-burning powders back then? Aside from cost, I fail to see why this would not be a usable concept. I believe the closest modern equivalent was the “Black Talon” rounds, which has a lubalox coating.

  • Zyle