October 8th, 2017

Stick, Flake, and Ball — Do You Know Your Powder Properties?

Widener's Reloading Smokeless Powder propellant Guide

Widener’s Reloading & Shooting Supply recently published a helpful introduction to reloading powders. Widener’s online Guide to Smokeless Powders shows the various types of powders, and explains how the differences in powder kernel/flake size and shape, and burn rate affect performance. We recommend you visit Widener’s website and read the Powder Guide in full.

Take a close look at these illustrations which show the key differences between the four main powder types: extruded (stick) powder, ball (spherical) powder, flattened ball powder, and flake powder.

Widener's Reloading Smokeless Powder propellant Guide

Widener's Reloading Smokeless Powder propellant Guide

Widener's Reloading Smokeless Powder propellant Guide

Widener's Reloading Smokeless Powder propellant Guide

Burn Rate Basics

Widener’s Guide to Smokeless Powders also has a useful discussion of Burn Rate (a confusing topic for many hand-loaders). Wideners explains: “While a gun powder explosion in the cartridge seems instantaneous, if you slow it down you will actually find that each powder has a different ‘burn rate’, or speed at which it ignites.” This video shows powders with two very different burn rates. Watch closely.

Different burn rates suit different cartridge types notes Widener’s: “In general a fast-burning powder is used for light bullets and low-speed pistols and shotguns. Medium-rate powders are used for magnum pistols, while high-velocity, large bore rifle cartridges will need slow powders[.]

It should be noted that burn rate does not have a standardized unit of measurement. In fact, burn rate is really only discussed in comparison to other powders; there is no universal yardstick. Specifics will change by cartridge and bullet types[.]”

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