How to Choose the Right Gunpowder for Handloading

Updated: May 17, 2020

What's up reloaders!

Welcome back, I hope you all are doing well.

Today we are going to talk about how to choose the right gunpowder for handloading

First, we will cover modern smokeless propellants, burn rate, and how to use those two to make an informed decision.

Smokeless Propellents

In today's world, you are faced with two different types of smokeless powder: single and double based. the only real difference between the two is the makeup of nitrocellulose and nitroglycerin. Single based consist of nitrocellulose and double based is made up of nitrocellulose and nitroglycerin. Is one better than the other? Well, that's like asking the world's best Barbeque sauce maker what's in their secret recipe. Theirs lots of other chemicals that are added into powders to set itself apart from its competition. However, single based powders notably do burn cleaner.

Double based powders are used in relation when high velocity is required but ultimately do burn dirtier and can potentially cause faster throat erosion. Again, there are a number of exceptions with certain manufacturers double based powders that do burn clean and fast.

On another note, single based powders have a shelf life of 45 years while double based have 20. Now, this time frame can change drastically on storage conditions and so many other factors. I've used some double based powders myself that are super old that still perform great. However, "the big reason double based powders have a shorter life span when in comparison to single based, is because nitroglycerine attacks double bonds on nitrocellulose and eventually breaks it down. Over long term storage, moisture in the air will wick nitroglycerine to the surface, as the water ions condense and evaporate onto the powder surface, which makes the surface area of old double based powders nitroglycerine rich. This will spike combustion pressures."

The big thing to take home is that heat will break down powder at a very fast rate and storing your propellents in ideal conditions is a must.

Burn Rate

Burn rate is another vital concept you should consider when choosing a powder. I found this excerpt that best explains it, "Generally, large case capacities mean you should select powders with slower burn rates. For example, Hodgdon H322 is a very popular, extruded, single-base powder often used for loading .223 Rem./5.56 NATO. It's a relatively fast-burning powder that will also work for other AR-platform cartridges like the 6.8 Rem. SPC and .30 Rem. AR. Hodgdon's Retumbo powder is also a single-base extruded powder, but it has a much slower burn rate and can be used with success in the much larger-cased .338 Lapua Mag."

"Additionally, as bullet weight for a specific cartridge increases, a slower-burning powder will often yield better results. A good example is the .308 Win. With light 110-grain bullets, fast-burning H4198 will work and deliver near-maximum velocities. Conversely, with bullets heavier than 130 grains, slower-burning powders like IMR 4895 and Varget will generally provide better accuracy and velocities."-

So, now that I have an idea of what single and double based powders are, what should I look for?

I personally always look for powders that are temperature stable and meter exceptionally. One of the easiest things to do when looking through a huge list of companies' propellents is by looking in your load manuals for powders listed under the projectile you plan on using. However, I also encourage you to do research on powders that aren't so mainstream. Just recently we wrote an article comparing Varget vs Shooter's World Precision - if you haven't checked out their powders, I'd look into them- in which ultimately their propellents are not displayed in load manuals. In order to find their data, you must download it from their website. The reason I say this is because how many new powders have come out since you've had those load manuals sitting on your bench for the past 10 years. Seriously, think about it. With the internet now and new powder and cartridges coming out almost every other month from manufacturers, it's good to broaden your options on propellents to get the "upper hand."

Once you find a few powders to try, you should ask yourself: "Do I plan on using this in a hunting scenario where temperatures will spike from morning to afternoon?" Well, you should look into temperature stable powders. "Am I using an extruded powder in a volumetric powder dispenser?" Maybe I should look into a powder with similar characteristics that's not an extruded powder, more like a ball or flake propellant that will help with metering. "I plan on switching from a light .308 110 grain load to possibly 150-175 grain." I should look into a propellent like Varget that is slow-burning and will yield better accuracy. As you can see, there is some thought process that can go into making a well-educated decision rather than just biting the bullet and spending money on powders that won't work.

Until the time comes where powder manufacturers start releasing small quantities, like a variety bag of certain propellents that you can buy for a flat fee to test out, you're stuck with just trying out a number of different powders that may work. At least, you can limit some of that time now by using the thought process above.

Moral of the story, weigh your options out and choose accordingly. Don't jump the gun too fast because you saw some guy on Facebook post his 300-yard 10 shot group in the same hole while the calipers cover up the rest of the target with some powder he just bought. If you know, you know. Not all great powders will yield the same results others have experienced.

As always, shoot straight, be safe, and happy reloading!

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Blake has been writing reloading articles for three years and helping out within the community to further enhance reloading education. In his free time, he works within the community to help out new hand-loaders by educating them on the many variables that come with this wonderful hobby. His passion is solely based on educating others so that they may pass on that information to future generations, keeping the art of hand-loading alive. Disclaimer: The content you are about to read is for demonstration purposes only. This includes videos, blog posts, articles, and all information associated with this websiteDo not attempt anything you see on this website. Again, these are for demonstration purposes only. If you see reloading data and or comments, please refer to the manufacturer of your choice and contact a technician. We are not responsible for any false data or comments from individuals.Again, this is a demonstration for reloading. Please contact or take classes from certified reloading instructors or contact the manufacturer of your choice. Please, do not attempt to tamper or modify with ammunition or firearms. Seek out a licensed professional or gunsmith. Any information you watch or read on this website must be assumed to have error and should not be performed. Reloadingallday will not and cannot be held responsible for harm caused to readers and watchers. The material that is covered is for demonstration purposes only. Please be aware that hand-loading and other topics covered is very dangerous and you are within full responsibility and liability for your own actions.Reloadingallday is also not responsible or liable for any damage that might be caused due to those who enter this website and read any of our material or watch. Again, this is for demonstration purposes only. By reading this article, you are agreeing that you are responsible for yourself, everyone around you, watchers, viewers, commenters, and fans. You are also agreeing that you are responsible for the safety and property as follows: yourself, everyone around you, watchers, viewers, commentators, and fans. Also, you are accepting that you agree with everything this disclaimer has written down.

Keep in mind that we may receive commissions when you click our links and make purchases. However, this does not impact our reviews and comparisons. We try our best to keep things fair and balanced, in order to help you make the best choice for you.

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