Small Arms Propellants
There are two basic categories of smokeless powder sold to the reloading public, canister powders and data powders.
Canister powders are standardized products which will be consistent from lot to lot in terms of burning rate, pressures developed, powder density and so on. The powder manufacturer or distributor will have developed and published some loading data that is appropriate for the the powders application; rifle, pistol and or shotgun cartridges.
Data powders are primarily made for the commercial ammunition manufacturers. They are somewhat less costly to produce than canister powders because the end product does not have to be exactly like the previous lot. Commercial customers who use data powders, will conduct extensive testing with each new lot to find the appropriate charge weight to use for given load.
From time there have been manufacturing overruns of these propellants where they have been sold to the general public, often at a significantly lower price per pound than a comparable canister powder.
Although there can be a significant cost savings with the use of data powders, they are not for the casual reloader. Typically these powders are sold by the 8 pound keg usually with just a plain white label that may or may not provide a clue as where to find your starting data. Of course, if you find that this keg of powder, doesn't suit your purpose then you are stuck with 7 plus pounds of smokeless powder. Also, loads have to be carefully worked up by someone who knows what he or she is doing.
A subset of data powders are pull down powders which are collected from disassembled ammunition. Personally, I avoid these like the plague since there is alway the possibility that two different propellants may be mixed together from different lots of ammunition. The powder may also be degraded due to poor storage conditions of the ammunition.
As of 2004, Accurate powders are sold by Western Powders which acquired the brand and assets of the company. Accurate was not a powder manufacturer per se, rather they contracted with other companies to manufacture the product to their specifications and then they package it. Initially most of the Rifle powders were made by Winchester Olin then they were manufactured in the Czech Republic.
- Introduced in 1994 as Scot 4100. Slow burning double base ball powder originally intended for loading 410 gauge shotgun shells. Unfortunately that data has been stripped out of the most current Western powder manuals. Used primarily for loading full power loads for large caliber magnum cartridges as the 357, Mag 44 Mag, 50 Action Express, 480 Ruger and .500 S & W. Currently manufactured in Belgium. The Accurate 2005 reloaders guide(p.8) suggests that loading data for the Accurate No. 9 can be used for this powder by increasing the charge by 3 percent.
- 2230-C (canister)
- spherical double based data powder sold from 2001 to 2005 in 8 pound kegs. For a time Widners sold this powder for 72 dollars per 8 pounds . Slightly slower than Accurate 2230. The recommendation given by Accurate Powder Inc. at the time was to use Accurate 2460 data.
Alliant previously Hercules
The Alliant Brand boasts two of the oldest smokeless powders in continuous production, Bullseye and Unique. Both powders were developed by Laflin & Rand before the company's aquisition by Dupont in 1902. Bullseye was introduced in 1898 and Unique in 1900.
Although appears that Bullseye has been in production the longest, it could be argued that Unique began its life in 1898 as Infallible, a shotshell propellant also developed by Laflin & Rand. Unique had the same formulation as Infallible but a slightly smaller grain size. Infallible and Unique were advertised side by side but for different applications. While they could be used interchangeably in all but maximum loads, Unique was marketed as a rifle powder and Infallible as a shotgun powder.
- Very fast burning double base flake powder used primarily for light to medium pistol loads, gallery rifle loads with light weight cast bullets.
- Red Dot
- I have found Red Dot to be a surprisingly flexible double based shotgun powder. It can be used in a wide variety of 12 gauge hulls for light field and target loads.
There is abundant data available for standard handgun loads using Red Dot with cast and jacketed bullets.
I have also used it for some low power cast bullet loads for some highpower rifle cartridges.
Red Dot has the appearance of flat charcoal gray circular flakes with circular red nylon dots added as an aid to identification.
- Green Dot
- Bulky powder, somewhat slower than Red Dot. Used for target and upland game hunting loads in 12 and 20 gauge. Also used for pistol and revolver cartridges.
- Unique has been around for a very, very long time so there is a wide variety of data available for various reloading applications.
It can be used for loading 20 and 12 Gauge shotshells, cast bullet loading in high power rifles and in many handgun cartridges.
In 1960, Unique was reformulated to reduce the nitroglycerine content in order to make it cleaner burning.
- Power Pistol
- Orignially developed for use in U.S. Military 9mm NATO ammunition where it was identified as Bullseye 84. Power Pistol was first sold as a canister powder to the general public in 1996. It is a double base flake powder with a burning rate between that of Unique and Herco when used in small capacity autoloading pistol cartridges. Unfortunately this powder is unsuitable for reloading shotgun shells as it will not function properly unless confined such that the operating pressures are much greater than those found in shotgun loads. Power pistol finds a secondary use in moderate power magnum cartridges.
- Shotgun powder for 20 and 28 gauge. Some pistol and cast bullet rifle applications
- Blue Dot
- Blue Dot is primarily used for loading magnum handgun cartridges and heavy shotgun loads. Used also to for buckshot loads in 12 and 20 gauge.
- Originally developed as a powder for small varmint rifle cartridges such as the 22 hornet, 2400 is used in Magnum handgun cartridges, 410 gauge shotgun shells and in cast bullet loads for high power rifle cartridges.
- Hi-Vel No. 2
- Somewhat fast extruded powder for high power rifle cartridges. Discontinued in early 1960's
- Designed for use in 410 gauge plastic shotshells using plastic cup wads. No other applications have been developed for this powder.
- Dupont Shotgun Smokeless
- Progressive single base bulk powder designed for shotgun loads. No longer in production. Sold early to mid 20th Century. Designed to be measured by volume with black powder measures. According to a table found in the 1905 edition of the "Complete American and Canadian Sportsman's Encyclopedia...", a 3 dram equivalent load of DuPont Smokeless Shotgun Bulk powder should weigh about 34 grains or 11.4 grains per dram equivalent. A word of caution is in order about this powder, due to the somewhat delicate nature of the powder grains there is a tendency for this powder to fragment and settle over the years.
- Dupont No. 1 Smokeless Rifle
- Bulk powder designed to be measured by volume with a blackpowder measure. 17 grains equal in volume and power to 40 grains black powder.
- Gallery Rifle Powder No. 75
- This single base propellant was first produced in 1904 by Laflin &Rand, where it was sold under the name "Marksman". It was designed for reduced powder rifle loads, particularly with cast bullets. No. 75 is described in the 1918 Dupont Product catalog as being gray in color. Manufactured by DuPont until 1928.
- Sporting Rifle Powder No. 80
- Introduced around 1913, this bulk smokeless powder was yellow-white in color(DuPont, 32). Used for reduced velocity highpower rifle cartridges with cast or jacketed bullets.
- Fast burning powder for light pistol and revolver loads in cartridges such as 38 special, 9 mm luger and 45 acp.
- Universal Clays
- This is a single base extruded shotgun powder that is used primarily for loading 12 to 28 gauge target and light field loads. Universal is also used for some pistol loads. It is cleaner burning that some of the older double based shotgun propellants. Manufactured by ADI of Australia for Hodgdon(VanDenburg 22).
- Spherical powder made for loading 30 carbine ammunition. Also used in 410 shotshells, 357 magnum and 44 magnum pistol loads. The concensus seems to be that Hodgdon 110 or its equivalent, Winchester 296 will yield longer case life than Alliant 2400 or Alliant 410.
- Very slow burning extruded powder designed for Magnum Rifle cartridges. No longer in production. According to Speer Manual #8 it has about the same burning rate as Hodgdon 870.
- Very slow burning ball powder designed for Magnum Rifle cartridges. Still in production.
Formerly Dupont, the IMR brand is now owned by Hodgdons.
- SR 4759 (Sporting Rifle)
- Introduced in 1941, this extruded powder was meant to replace Sporting Rifle Powder No. 80 (Lyman 15). Discontinued in 1964 and reintroduced in 1973 (Grennell 110). Used for cast bullet loads in highpowder rifle cartridges.
- IMR 3031 (Improved Military Rifle)
- Extruded powder used primarily for jacketed bullet loads in highpower rifles.
- IMR 4895 (Improved Military Rifle)
- If there is a standard powder for 30-06 then IMR 4895 is it.
- IMR 4320 (Improved Military Rifle)
- IMR 4064 (Improved Military Rifle)
- IMR 4350 (Improved Military Rifle)
- Slow burning somewhat bulky extruded powder used for high power rifle and magnum rifle applications. Yields very consistent velocities in 30-06 with heavy bullets.
Brand is owned by Western Powders
- True Blue
Advertising "prehistoric powder prices", this brand appears to be extinct as of 2011. Theoretically cheaper than its competitors, Rex powder had a small following but it never really took off. Distributed in the U.S. by Graf & Sons, Rex Powder was produced by Nitrokmia in Hungary. Sold by the kilogram (2.2 pound) in cardboard cans, similar to the old Hercules containers.
As of June 2012 there is a website, www.rexpowder.com/ , which lists some sparse loading data. As best as I can tell from the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, rexpowder.com became active around November of 2001.
Rex was marketed as being a cheaper offering than currently available smokeless powders but the brand was handicapped from the start by a lack of reloading data and availability from local sources. I never saw it at any of the local gun shows, for me to try it, it would have been necessary to have it shipped via Fed Ex which would result in being charged their 25 dollar hazmat fee. To make it worth my while, I would have had to purchase at least another 16 pounds of powder, which I could source more cheaply elsewhere.
All the Rex powders imported into the U.S were fast burning single base flake powders appropriate for shotgun target and light game loads in 12 and 20 gauge as well as some common standard velocity pistol loads.
- Rex 0
- Very fast burning pistol powder used for same applications as Alliant Bullseye and Winchester 231.
- Rex 1
- Single base flake shotgun powder said to be appropriate for the same applications as Alliant Red Dot or Hodgdon Clays.
- Rex 2
- Used for the same sort of applications as Alliant Green Dot and Hodgdon International Clays.
- Rex 3
- Used for the same applications as Hodgdon Universal Clays.
- Winchester 296 was introduced in 1973. Used primarily for loading 30 carbine and 410 gauge shotshells. Same as Hodgdon 110
Buzzacott, Francis H. "The Complete American and Canadian Sportsman's Encyclopedia of Valuable Instruction " American and Canadian Sportsmans Assn 1905 p. 274
Dupont "Dupont Products" E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company 1918
Grennell, Dean A. "The ABC's of Reloading" Digest Books 1974
Lyman "Reloading Ammunition - Ideal Handbook No. 38" Lyman Gun Sight Coporation 1951 p. 163
Mushial, Greg. J. "Treatise on Pistol Powder Usage<" , July 12, 1999 http://www.gmdr.com/lever/pistolpowi.htm (Accessed June 18, 2012)
Neuschaefer, Klaus "The Smokeless Powders of Laflin & Rand and their Fate 100 Years after Assimilation by DuPont" 2007 p.37-39 L&R-Smokeless.pdf
Speer Incorporated "Speer Manual For Reloading Ammunition No. 8 " 1970 VanDenburg, R. H. "Propellant Profiles:Hodgdon's Universal" Handloader February 2007 p. 22-23