Research Press

Historical Firearms, Long Range Target Shooting & Military History

Index to The Black Powder Cartridge Rifle Reloading Guide (rev. 9/18/03)

Dick Trenk
(Competition Events Coordinator, Davide Pedersoli & Co.)
Copyright 2003. R. T. Trenk, Sr.


POWDER SELECTION

Various brands of black powder produce different burning rates, power and consistency. Different lots of the same brand will also have such variations. Some powder brands have been encountered which are very poor quality and give erratic results and inaccuracy.

We suggest using any of the following black powder brands: Swiss brand powder, Elephant brand powder, Goex brand powder, KIK brand powder and WANO brand powder.

(The author ranks these in that order of quality and performance but recent tests of 2002 lots of Goex indicate it is much improved over 2001 and prior lots and reports place it just below the Swiss powder performance).

A new type powder designed for use in Schuetzen type rifles is becoming available and while it is mainly designed for the smaller caliber rifles used in that shooting activity, it is likely to also work well in some larger calibers as well.

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BLACK POWDER SUBSTITUTES

Pyrodex RS powder (which is not a black powder) may also be used. We have not tested Pyrodex in the 45-100, 45-110 and 45-120 large capacity cases and make no suggestions for its use, but experience with it in smaller cases has shown good performance so it will likely do well in the large cases also. Pyrodex is used on the basis of equivalent black powder volume not weight.

Load the same amount of Pyrodex powder height into your case as you would for black powder. DO NOT load Pyrodex using equal scale weight of black powder. Use ONLY the RS or Ctg. grade not the P grade of Pyrodex in BP rifle cases.

In recent years there have been some new type powders developed, for which high claims have been made by the sellers. At this time, we advise against using such powders based on reports of poor power, inaccuracy, high corrosiveness, short canister life, moisture attraction and other undesirable conditions which have been reported.

As such powders may become better perfected in the future, their time may yet come but it appears that this is not yet that time. This does NOT rule out the use of other brands of powders but we suggest that you talk to other shooters and if possible log onto one of the black powder shooters message boards seen on the internet. Put your questions on one of those boards and you will soon see advice and opinions from other shooters.

Starting in 2003, the NRA has ruled that Silhouette and target Rifle matches must use only 100% black powder or Pyrodex. No duplex loads or substitute powders will be allowed.

Dealers selling little known powders may not know the performance characteristics of the brand being sold and may also be tempted to sell powders of an inferior type which bring them a higher profit. There are reports of "fireworks" powders being repacked and sold as BP rifle and pistol powders. While there is no danger from these low grade powders, there will also be poor and erratic performance resulting from their use.

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PYRODEX & TRIPLE SEVEN POWDER WARNING

Pyrodex and Triple Seven powder fouling is easily cleaned using the same simple process given for black powder.

Hodgdon Powder Co. sells a Pyrodex solvent product called EZ-Clean which also works well with Triple Seven and black powder.

However...if you use Pyrodex or Triple Seven powder and decide to clean your fouled barrel with a smokeless powder solvent which contains ammonia...AND...if it is allowed to remain in the barrel for several hours it can create a rapid rusting condition. Therefore if you do use a product containing ammonia remember to not allow it to remain in the barrel beyond the time needed to do the cleaning and also make certain it is completely removed and the barrel protected properly before storing the gun. To be on the safe side just use the Pyrodex EZ-Clean or any other brand name commercial BP solvent or the standard soap and water used for blackpowder fouling removal.

The above applies to Pyrodex and Triple seven in both powder or pellet form.

Hodgdon states that Pyrodex should not be compressed more than 1/8 inch (. 125") and Triple Seven not compressed more than .100". (pellets are not compressed by the reloader so this applies only to these powders in loose grain form).

If Pyrodex or Triple Seven powder is over-compressed, the powder grains may collapse and become a solid column or "plug" of material and upon ignition, extremely high and dangerous pressure can be produced which can burst the cartridge case as well as cause damage to the firearm and injury the shooter and bystanders.

This danger is present in any cartridge case but is more severe in a case which has a slight taper or a bottleneck shape!

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POWDER GRAIN SIZE
Powder grain size is designated by the "Fg" system in the USA, Canada and many parts of the world.

The Fg system uses four designations for "Sporting and Military Small Arms Powders". The Fg (1Fg) is the largest grain size and the FFFFg (4Fg) is a very fine, almost powdery grain size. The FFFFg is used ONLY as a primer in flintlock guns and burns very fast and extremely powerfully. It is NOT to be used as a main charge in any large rifle caliber.

The list shown below is a guide only. Some bottleneck cases and some guns respond well to powder grain sizes not in accord with this list and you are advised to experiment to see what your gun likes best.

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WHAT POWDER GRAIN SIZE TO USE

Powder grain size  Caliber of rifle cartridge
Fg 45 and 50 cal.(best with case lengths 2. 6" and longer)
FFG 38 to 45 cal. (all case lengths)
FFFg Under 38 cal. (all case lengths)
FFFFg Flintlock primer

The Swiss brand powder uses a reversed numbering system in Europe and entered the US market. To assist US shooters, the canisters have been remarked as shown below.

Swiss brand number  "F" system of grain size designation
5 Fg (1Fg)
4 1 1/2 Fg (between Fg and FFg in grain size)
3 FFg (2Fg)
2 FFFg (3Fg)
1 FFFFg (4Fg)

Note that the Swiss 1 1/2 Fg has no actual equivalent in the Fg system and therefore is simply called 1 1/2 Fg because its grain size falls between Fg and FFg.

Some powders sold or repacked by small companies have been found to have grain sizes not in agreement with the generally accepted sizes used by major powder companies. As a result such powder usually does not perform as expected.

The popular 45-70 and 45-90 will produce best velocity combined with best accuracy when Swiss number FFg or 1 1/2 Fg powder is used. Most 40 caliber cases do well with FFg or FFFg Swiss powder.

For the 45-100, 45-110, and 45-120 cartridge case, best results are obtained with Swiss number Fg or the 1 1/2 Fg grain sizes. The FFg grains size burns too fast in these large cases but some shooters like the performance of the FFg in the large cases.

Our tests have indicated that currently, the Swiss brand powders produce the most powerful loads plus delivering first class accuracy. The other powder brands can produce accuracy at somewhat lower bullet speeds.

Most rifles produce their best accuracy with a load somewhat below maximum so these other powder brands should be tested to see what your gun likes best. Powders other than Swiss brand will produce slower bullet velocities and this reduces recoil quite a bit and sometimes accuracy is found to be improved also.

Swiss brand also sells for a higher price so you should experiment with lower price powders to see if you can get a good load worked up. The old style BP cases hold so much powder that even with those weaker powders there can be plenty of bullet speed developed.

In both smokeless powder, as well as with black powder, it is desired to have each bullet leave the muzzle at exactly the same speed.

Of course this is a dream never made real!

With the use of a chronograph, a shooter fires each shot over electric eyes, which sense the shadow of the bullet passing over the eyes.

The speed is shown in feet per second (fps) or meters per second (mps.)

With the Swiss Brand we expect a well developed loading to produce "single digit" variations. Most other brands can also be made to deliver single digit ES (extreme spread) so this is but another area needing careful experimentation.

While having your ammunition deliver single digit ES is certainly something that we usually want to see, the fact is that sometimes such a loading does NOT produce the best accuracy in a certain rifle so be aware of these exceptions to the rules.

Example: Shot #1, 1250 fps; shot #2, 1255 fps; shot #3, 1247 fps. The spread between the high and low is only 8 fps which is a single digit number.

A load which consistently produces a single digit speed variation is considered to be match grade and if other factors are also good, this load would possibly produce the smallest group size on the target but as mentioned above, the rifle will tell you on the paper target what it likes best.

Such single digit speed variations can also be obtained from some other brands of black powder so you should obtain and test as many brands and powder lots as possible.

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