Reloading your own ammunition: Dropping gunpowder
Friday, May 29, 2015
There is a huge difference between black powder and today's smokeless powder. I had this demonstrated to me by someone pouring the two different powders into can lids and igniting them. The smokeless powder burned over a short period of time in a rising flame. The black powder created a sudden and violent explosion.
That same concept of variety in performance also applies to the various smokeless powders available to us. Powders are designed for efficacy in different caliber requirements, and some burn faster and hotter than others.
When reloading ammunition, there are four basic rules that apply to dropping gunpowder:
- Don't smoke and have no local source of ignition
- Always wear safety glasses.
- Do not mix different powder types. The results are not predictable.
- Consult reloading guides and start loading the minimum grains recommended, while you test your loads. There is a large difference between the recommended grains of powder for each powder type and caliber to prevent overpressure in your guns.
Reloading guides follow the specifications of the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers' Institute (SAAMI). It provides pressure recommendations for the particular caliber as well as an approximate bullet speed in feet per second.
There are several methods to weigh the amount of powder you are using. Powder is measured in grains, and there are 7,000 grains to a pound. Whichever you use, this is the time you need the most focus and concentration:
- Lee provides manually calibrated dippers. It is difficult to be accurate and consistent using these.
- Several manufacturers provide balance beams for weighing the powder. These can be accurate, though a little fidgety and time-consuming.
- Several manufacturers have electronic digital scales, which are consistent and easy to use.
Weighing the powder for each round helps with accuracy, but it is time-consuming. Several manufacturers make auto-powder measures. The secret to using these is to adjust the calibration of the powder measure accurately for the powder drop, then weigh the result of the dropped powder. These auto-measures are not consistent for the first five to 10 drops, so even after you think you are correctly adjusted, weigh some more drops until you are convinced of the accuracy.
The reason for this is some powders tend to clump more than others, and the powder's behavior can be affected by temperature and humidity. Thus, the setting you were using yesterday might not be the most accurate today.
Another piece of advice is to stop every 20-25 drops and check that you are still achieving consistency.
I drop powder into all of my casings before pressing the bullet to the case. I store these with the neck up. This way I can pull out the reloading block and visually inspect the cases to ensure there were none missed (causes the famous squib) and that you did not accidently drop two loads of powder in the same case (this causes overpressure). Both squibs and overpressure rounds are dangerous.
The only step left is pressing the bullet into the case and/or crimping, which will be next week's topic.
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