Story by Boyd Allen
While many top competitive shooters trickle their stick powder charges to a kernel or two, that would be impractical when loading charges for giant naval guns. You may be surprised, but the shells fired by the U.S. Navy’s massive 14″ and 16″ naval guns were also propelled by stick-type extruded powders. You couldn’t trickle these ‘kernels’ though — a single stick or ‘grain’ can be over 2″ long. Take a look…
In connection with a Benchrest Central discussion that drifted to the subject of powders used in large naval guns, I heard from Joe McNeil, whose father was involved in manufacturing those very propellants as a DuPont employee. Joe writes:
“My Dad worked for the DuPont company for over 40 years. Every time the nation went to war he was assigned to the gun powder plants which DuPont ran for the government for $1.00 per year! His last assignment was at the Indiana Ordnance Plant in Jefferson, Indiana from 1952 through 1958. He had a display case made of all of the different powders made at the plant and left it to me. That’s why I have a grain of 16″ gun powder. He took me out to the Jefferson proving grounds once when they tested the powder in a 16″ gun. We watched from a half-mile away but it left a lasting impression when they fired that gun. They actually had a set of rings they fired through to test the performance of the powder and shell. This was a truly fond memory of my Dad and his work.”
Here are some pictures of the gun powder “grains” made during the Korean War at the Indiana Ordnance Works where Joe McNeil’s father worked.
Above is the display case with the different powders manufactured at the DuPont plant. They include: 37 MM/AA, 75MM Pack Howitzer, 50 Cal. 5010, 20 MM 4831, 30 Cal. 4895, 76 MM, 3″, 5″, 90 MM, 4.7″, 240MM, 8″, 280 MM, 175 MM, 155 MM Howitzer, 155 MM Gun M.P., 8″ Gun M.P., 12″, 14, 16″. There are different-sized ‘grains’ for specific rounds.
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21st Century Shooting produces a high quality powder funnel, that is very “user-friendly”. The top section is precision ground and polished for a smooth flow. The center has a see-through tube so you can watch the progress of your powder dropping into the case. At the bottom of each funnel is a black case adapter that seats securely yet won’t get stuck on the case. There are five different adapter sizes — the smallest fits .17 Rem to .223 Rem, while the largest fits big magnum calibers. We use the mid-sized, #3 adapter most often. This fits 6mmBR, 6.5×47 Lapua, and .308 Win family of cases (.243 Win, .260 Rem, 7mm-08, .308 Win). Additional adapters are $6.99 each. There are three tube lengths available: 3″, 6″, and 10″. So, if you need an extra-long drop tube (to help fill PPC and other small cases), 21st Century has you covered.
The funnels are priced by size. The 3″-long model is $24.00, the 6″-long model is $27.00, and the big 10″-long model is $31.00. Prices include one (1) adapter. These high-grade funnels will help you load faster and easier, with fewer spilled kernels. We use these funnels and they do work well. The appropriate collars fit your .223 Rem, 6PPC, 6mmBR, Dasher, 6XC, .260 Rem, .284 Win, and .308 case necks just right — not too loose, not too tight. Kernels flow smoothly through the tube without sticking to the sides. The aluminum top section does not seem to attract a static charge so you don’t have to waste time brushing kernels off the funnel after use. We like this product. For high-volume precision reloaders, these funnels are worth the money.
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Norma announced that Paul-Erik Toivo will take over as CEO of Norma Precision AB, replacing Torb Lindskog who is retiring after 17 years at Norma’s helm. Toivo is a well-respected executive with decades of international industrial experience. He has held senior positions within Cloetta, and the SAKO- Metso- and latest the Isku concerns. Toivo states that Norma, a division of RUAG, is looking to expand its market in the United States: “We will intensify the efforts to grow in the world, and especially in the US. The cooperation with our sister company within RUAG Ammotec will also be strengthened”
Torb Lindskog retires after leading Norma for 17 years. “I am very grateful for these fantastic years at Norma, together with wonderful colleagues and I now look forward to a somewhat less hectic routine, even though I will be part of the Norma board, and keep my Presidency of AFEMS (Assoc. of European Mfgs. of Sporting Ammunition) until 2015. I wish both Norma and Paul-Erik all the best for the future.”
Norma Precision AB, which is part of the Swiss RUAG concern, has annual revenues of 270 Million Swedish Kroner ($41,068,890 USD). With a workforce of 190 employees, Norma markets cartridge brass, bullets, powders, and loaded ammunition. All production, from raw material to finished product, takes place in Åmotfors of Värmland, Sweden.
News Tip by EdLongrange. We welcome reader submissions.
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Here’s good news for reloaders. Some large shipments of propellants were delivered in the last week, and we are starting to see supplies of some popular powders start to catch up to demand. Third Generation Shooting Supply received a very large order of Alliant Powders in one-pound containers, including the popular Reloder series. If you need RL15, RL19 or RL22 you may be able to grab some before it’s gone. TGSS has already sold nearly a ton of RL15 this week.
Natchez Shooters Supplies is featuring Vihtavuori powders, and the Natchez inventory system is showing supplies “in stock” for many of the most popular Vihtavuori powders including N320, N133, N135, N540, N150, N160, and N165. All these powders (including 8-lb jugs of N133) are shown “in stock” as of this morning, but we caution that things change quickly!
NOTE FOR LATE READERS: Inventory shown for 10:00 AM April 20, 2013.
Powder Valley Inc. Partial List of In-Stock Powders
Hodgon H380 (1 lb.) — In stock at $18.35/lb
Hodgdon H1000 (8 lbs.) — In stock at $152.00 for 8 lbs.
Hodgdon Retumbo (1 lb.) — In stock at $21.35/lb
Hodgdon Superformance (8 lbs.) — In stock at $152.00 for 8 lbs.
Alliant Reloder 50 (1 lb.) — In stock at $19.15/lb
Alliant Reloder 50 (8 lbs.) — In stock at $137.50 for 8 lbs.
IMR 7828 (8 lbs.) — In stock at $147.80 for 8 lbs.
Norma 203B (1 lb) — In stock at $24.80/lb (this is nearly identical to Reloder 15)
Vihtavuori 3N37 (1 lb) — In stock at $29.95/lb
Vihtavuori N150 (1 lb) — In stock at $29.15/lb
Vihtavuori N160 (1 lb) — In stock at $29.15/lb
Third Generation Shooting Supply Alliant Powders (Partial list)
Power Pro 4000 MR (1 lb.) — 961 lbs. in stock at $19.99/lb
Power Pro Varmint – (1 lb.) — 133 lbs. in stock at $19.99/lb
Reloder 10X – (1 lb.) — out of stock
Reloder 15 (1 lb.) — 733 lbs. in stock at $20.99/lb
Reloder 17 (1 lb.) — out of stock
Reloder 19 (1 lb.) — 2579 lbs. in stock at $20.99/lb
Reloder 22 (1 lb.) — 1797 lbs. in stock at $20.99/lb
Reloder 25 (1 lb.) — 109 lbs. in stock at $20.99/lb
Reloder 50 (1 lb.) — 36 lbs. in stock at $20.99/lb
Natchez Shooters Supplies Vihtavuori Powders (Quantities Limited)
Vihtavuori Oy N3N37 (1 lb.) — In Stock at $31.49/lb
Vihtavuori Oy N320 (1 lb.) – In Stock at $31.49/lb
Vihtavuori Oy N133 (8 lbs.) — In Stock at $197.49 for 8 lbs
Vihtavuori Oy N133 (1 lb.) – In Stock at $30.49/lb
Vihtavuori Oy N135 (1 lb.) – In Stock at $30.49/lb
Vihtavuori Oy N150 (1 lb.) – In Stock at $30.49/lb
Vihtavuori Oy N160 (1 lb.) – In Stock at $30.49/lb
Vihtavuori Oy N165 (1 lb.) – In Stock at $30.49/lb
Vihtavuori Oy N540 (1 lb.) – In Stock at $34.99/lb
Editor’s Note: As with all inventory systems, there can be a variance between actual inventories and listed inventories. We are reporting what is shown “in-stock” this morning. But if the inventories are not updated in “real time” as shipments are made, true supplies may be less than what is shown.
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If you own an RCBS ChargeMaster 1500 electronic powder scale/dispenser, or are thinking about purchasing one, here are a few tips that can cut your loading times and eliminate some petty annoyances.
Mute That Annoying Beep
Some ChargeMaster users complain about the loud beep at the end of each cycle. There’s a simple way to silence the beep — and you don’t have to cut any wires or permanently disable the speaker. To mute the beep, simply hold down the Zero button until “beep off” displays. Repeat this procedure to restore the beep function.
Activating the Auto-Dispense Mode
You can set the ChargeMaster to automatically dispense your pre-programmed charge as soon as you put the pan back on the scale. Simply press and hold the “Enter” button. The code “Auto” should then appear on the display. At this point, push “Disp” to dispense the first charge. When you replace the pan, the unit will automatically dispense the same charge. For some people this is an added convenience. You can always go back to the default manual dispense method by changing the dispense mode using the “Enter” button again.
Use a McDonald’s Straw to Reduce Over-Throws
Jaco Brink provided another useful tip to avoid “over-throws” (excess charge weight): “The RCBS employee advised me to take a McDonnell’s straw (because it is thicker than a normal straw), cut off about a half inch piece and put it into the tube where the powder exits. This caused the last part of an extruded powder to cluster less, and reduced the amount of overthrows dramatically.”
The video below shows how to set up and calibrate a Chargemaster 1500. Be sure to level the unit carefully, both left to right and front to back. Starting at the 1:44 mark in the video you can see the unit dispense a 50-grain charge in 30 seconds. The slow, final trickle stage takes about half of the total time.
How to Shorten Dispensing Times
The last tip is for advanced users only. You can alter the programming settings to speed up powder dispensing dramatically. One user reported that, by re-programming his machine, his cut his dispensing time for a 30-grain load from 22 to 13 seconds “with no overthrows”. WARNING: once you change the parameters, there is no “restore” command to set everything back to the defaults. So proceed carefully. The speed enhancement procedure is described on the pages linked below:
Here’s good news for purchasers of reloading components. Powder Valley Inc. (PVI) is “holding the line” on prices of powder, primers, brass, and bullets. In so doing, Powder Valley is “keeping the faith” with its customer base. By contrast, many local gun shops and big box retailers have jacked up prices on guns, ammo, and reloading supplies in response to a spike in demand. With the hue and cry for new gun control legislation, gun owners have rushed to stores to get guns, ammo, and reloading components. Predictably, some retailers have raised prices on everything from primers to all types of semi-auto firearms. Not so with Powder Valley. If you check the PVI website, you’ll see that prices for almost all products in stock are basically the same as a month ago (before the events in Newtown). Unlike some other vendors, Powder Valley has refrained from ramping up prices. We commend PVI for this.
Here is what Powder Valley owner Bryan Richardson told us about his company’s pricing policy:
“We watched back in 2009 as companies jacked up their prices due to supply and demand. This may make sense for some retailers and manufacturers. However, this is not the way we do business, nor will ever do business. It is completely against our conviction.
My wife and I established our business in 2000 with a mission statement of: ‘Providing the finest in reloading components and other shooting sports related products at the best possible price. In doing so, we will conduct business with the utmost respect and consideration for the customer’s needs by constantly demonstrating honesty and integrity.’
Therefore, increasing prices due to current market and political conditions is contrary to our mission of conducting business with the utmost respect and consideration for the customer’s needs. It is my opinion that if we want our industry to survive… we cannot price consumers out of shooting. Therefore, when you see our prices increase or decrease it is simply based off of the manufacturer’s or importer’s pricing. I think history shows that consumers remember the companies who elevated their prices for short-term profits and those who did not. We are here for the long haul and want to grow our business through building our customer base, not increasing our prices.”
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Most of us assume that if we weigh our powder carefully (down to the tenth of a grain or less) we can achieve a uniform powder fill from case to case in our handloads. Weighing does ensure that the weight of the propellant in each case is the same, but is the column of powder the same by volume each time? “Not necessarily” is the answer. An interesting experiment by our friend Boyd Allen demonstrates that the manner in which you place kernels in the case can make a significant difference in the height of the powder column within the brass case.
Using a Gempro 250 scale, Boyd measured exactly 30.6 grains of Vihtavuori N-133 powder. He then inserted this powder in the same cartridge case multiple times. (The case has a fired primer in place.) But here is the key — Boyd used various filling techniques. He did a slow fill, and a fast fill, and he also experimented with tapping and drop tubes. What Boyd discovered was that you can start with the exact same weight of powder (in fact the very same set of kernels), yet end up with vary different fill heights, depending on how you drop the kernels into the case. Look at the photos. Despite variations in lighting, the photos show the same 30.6 grains of powder, placed in the same cartridge, with four different methods.
Boyd Explains the Procedure Used for his Experiment.
EDITOR’s NOTE: So there is no misunderstanding, Boyd started with a weighed 30.6 grain charge. This identical charge was used for ALL four fills. After a fill the powder was dumped from the case into a pan which was then used for the next fill technique to be tried. So, the powder weight was constant. Indeed the exact same kernels (of constant weight and number) were used for each fill.
Boyd writes: “I used the same powder for all fills, 30.6 gr. on a GemPro 250 checked more than once. All fills employed the same RCBS green transparent plastic funnel. The fast drop with the funnel only overflowed when it was removed from the case neck, and 15 granules of powder fell on the white paper that the case was sitting on. The fast-funnel-only drop with tapping, was done with the funnel in place and the case and funnel in one hand, while tapping the case body with the index finger hard, many times (about 20 fast double taps). My idea here was to “max out” the potential of this tapping technique.
The slow drop with the funnel and 10″-long .22 cal. Harrell’s Precision drop tube, was done by holding the scale pan over the funnel and tapping the spout of the pan repeatedly on the inside of the funnel about 1/3 down from the top, with the scale pan tilted just enough so that the powder will just flow. Many taps were involved, again, to max out the technique.
Again, to be clear, after each case filling, the powder was poured from the case back into the scale pan carefully. You may notice the similarity between the fast drop with the drop tube, and the funnel only with tapping. Although I did not photograph it, fast tube drop and tapping (combined) improved on tapping alone, but only to about half as far down the neck as the slow with drop tube. Due to the endless possible permutations, I picked four and left it at that.
I believe that I can make the rough judgment that the scale pan funnel and drop tube technique, which involved a longer drop period, and probably less velocity at the top of the tube, left more room in the top of the case neck than the slow drop from the measure with the same drop tube. You have both pictures, so you can make the comparison.” — Boyd
Does Powder Column Height Variance Make a Difference?
Boyd’s experiment proves pretty conclusively that the method of dropping a given weight of powder can affect the height of the powder column in the case and the degree of powder compression (when a bullet is seated). He showed this to be true even when the exact same set of kernels (of constant weight) was used in repetitive loadings. This raises some interesting questions:
1. Will subsequent cartridge transport and handling cause the powder to settle so the variances in powder column height are diminished?
2. If significant inconsistencies in powder column height remain at time of firing, will the difference in fill level hurt accuracy, or result in a higher extreme spread in velocity?
3. Is there any advantage (beyond increased effective case capacity) for a tight (low level) fill vs. a loose (high level) fill?
We don’t know the answer to these follow up questions. This Editor guesses that, if we tested low-fill-height rounds vs. high-fill-height rounds (all with same true fill quantity by weight), we might see meaningful differences in average velocity. I would also guess that if you fired 10 rounds that exhibited quite a difference in powder column heights, you might see a higher ES/SD than if you shot 10 rounds loaded with a very consistent powder column height (either high or low). But further testing is needed to determine if these predictions are true.
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Here’s a clever, easy modification for your RCBS ChargeMaster electronic powder dispenser. Many folks use a McDonald’s straw to smooth kernel flow out of the dispensing tube. Forum member Mike S. (aka in2deep) found that, even with a straw in place, he sometimes got clumps, which dropped 5-6 kernels at once, throwing off his dispensed weight.
Mike looked at the situation and ingeniously decided to trim the straw into little v-shaped arms or prongs. This helps to break up the clumps, so the kernels flow out the end of the tube more consistently during the dispense cycle. Mike writes:
Soda Straw Modification
This is a further tweak of the popular soda straw modification as the original mod would still allow Varget powder to collect in the straw and dump sometimes as many as 6 or 8 or even more extra kernels in the pan. It would sometimes signal an overcharge, but even when it didn’t there could be as many as 6+ kernels too high or too low (total spread of 12+).
The little arms (prongs) on the straw tend to separate the kernels into groups of 1 or 2 or 3 and prevents piling and many times the throw is now within 1 or 2 kernels of the desired weight.
Straw Cutting Tips — Mike found the shape/angle of the “arms” is very important. If the cuts are too fine or too course it allows the kernels to collect almost like before but the illustrated angle seems to allow an average of only 2 or 3 kernels per trickle input from the machine. This means that more charges are much closer to the actual desired weight and max kernel variances will be cut in less than half and there will be almost no overthrows.
Credit Boyd Allen for sourcing this tip.
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How much does it cost you to send a round downrange? Ask most shooters this question and they’ll start adding up the cost of components: bullets, powder, and primers. Then they’ll figure in the cost of brass, divided by the number of times the cases are reloaded.
For a 6BR shooting match bullets, match-grade primers, and 30 grains of powder, in brass reloaded ten times, this basic calculation gives us a cost per shot of $0.51 (fifty-one cents):
NOTE: If you shoot a larger caliber that burns more powder, and uses more expensive bullets and/or brass, your total cost per round will be higher than $0.51.
$1.00 Per Shot True Cost? Yikes!
OK, we’ve seen that it costs about $0.51 per round to shoot a 6BR. Right?
Wrong! — What if we told you that your ACTUAL cost per round might be closer to double that number? How can that be? Well… you haven’t accounted for the cost of your barrel. Every round you fire down that tube expends some of the barrel’s finite life. If, like some short-range PPC shooters, you replace barrels every 700 or 800 rounds, you need to add $0.60 to $0.70 per round for “barrel cost.” That can effectively double your cost per round, taking it well past the dollar per shot mark.
Calculating Barrel Cost Per Shot
In the table below, we calculate your barrel cost per shot, based on various expected barrel lifespans.
As noted above, a PPC barrel is typically replaced at 700-800 rounds. A 6.5-284 barrel can last 1200+ rounds, but it might need replacement after 1000 rounds or less. A 6BR barrel should give 2000-2600 rounds of accurate life, and a .308 Win barrel could remain competitive for 4,000 rounds or more.
The table below shows your barrel cost per shot, based on various “useful lives.” We assume that a custom barrel costs $540.00 total to replace. This includes $300.00 for the barrel itself, $200.00 for chambering/fitting (conservative number), and $40.00 in 2-way shipping costs. These are typical costs shooters will encounter when ordering a rebarreling job.
The numbers are interesting. If you get 2000 rounds on your barrel instead of 1000, you save $0.27 per shot. However, extending barrel life from 2000 to 3000 rounds only saves you $0.09 per round. The longer you keep your barrel the more you save, but the savings per shot decreases as the round count increases.
How to Reduce Your TRUE Cost per Round
What does this tell us? First, in figuring your annual shooting budget, you need to consider the true cost per round, including barrel cost. Second, if you want to keep your true costs under control, you need to extend your barrel life. This can be accomplished in many ways. First, you may find that switching to a different powder reduces throat erosion. Second, if you’re able to slow down your shooting pace, this can reduce barrel heat, which can extend barrel life. (A varminter in the field is well-advised to switch rifles, or switch barrels, when the barrel gets very hot from extended shot strings.) Third, modifying your cleaning methods can also extend the life of your barrel. Use solvents that reduce the need for aggressive brushing, and try to minimize the use of abrasives. Also, always use a properly fitting bore guide. Many barrels have been prematurely worn out from improper cleaning techniques.
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Man does not live by long-guns alone. We know that many of our readers own .45 ACP handguns and load for this extremely accurate “classic” cartridge. When selecting a powder for the .45 ACP, there are many good options. All the major powder manufacturers make propellants with appropriate density and burn rate characteristics for the .45 ACP. Popular choices include: AA #5 (Accurate Powder); Bullseye (Alliant); Clays, HP-38, and Titegroup (Hodgdon); VV N310 and N320 (Vihtavuori); and WW 231 and WST (Winchester). We’ve tried all those powders in a variety of .45 ACP handguns. When we consider all the factors that make for a good pistol powder, we think N320 is one of the best available propellants for the .45 ACP. Vihtavuori N320 is very accurate, it meters well, and it burns clean, with minimal smoke and flash. If you haven’t tried VV N320 yet, you should.
Pros and Cons of Different Powders for the .45 ACP
This Editor has personally tried out eight or more different powders for the .45 ACP. Bullseye works but it is very dirty (both smoke out the barrel and sooty powder fouling on case). Though it otherwise burns clean, Titegroup leaves a singular (and nasty) high-temp flame streak on your brass that is hard to remove. AA #5 is a good choice for progressive press newbies as you use more powder so a double charge will (usually) be obvious. I like AA #5 but N320 was more accurate. Clays burns clean but some powder measures struggle with flake powders like this. WW 231 offered excellent accuracy and metered well, but it kicked out sparks with little pieces of debris that would hit me in the face. Who wants that?
I personally tried all the powders listed above with lead, plated, and jacketed bullets. After testing for accuracy, consistency, and ease of metering, I selected VV N320 as the best overall performer.
No powder tested was more accurate (WW 231 was equally accurate).
Meters very well in all kinds of powder measures.
Produces very little smoke from muzzle.
Does not put nasty burn streak on brass like Tite-Group does.
Low Flash — you don’t get particles and sparks flying out like WW 231.
Cases come out from gun very clean — so you can tumble less often.
Forum member and gunsmith Michael Ezell agrees that N320 is a good choice for the .45 ACP. Mike has also found that WW 231, while accurate, produces sparks and a large flash. Mike writes: “I first started using N320 after my first night shoot, while shooting IDPA/IPSC matches. It was astonishing how much of a fireball the WW 231 created. I was literally blinded by the flash while trying to shoot a match. As you can imagine, that didn’t work out very well. I went from WW 231 to N320 and never looked back…and the flash from it was a fraction of what a kid’s sparkler would give off. I have nothing but good things to say about [N320] after using both. Night shoots are a real eye-opener! When it comes to a personal protection… there is, statistically, a very high chance that if you ever have to use a gun to protect yourself or your family, it’ll be in the darkness[.] Being blinded by muzzle flash (and deafened by the noise) are things that should be considered, IMO.”
This Editor owns a full-size, all-stainless S&W 1911. After trying numerous powders, I found VV N320 delivered the best combination of accuracy, easy metering, consistency, clean burning qualities, and low muzzle flash. My gun has proven exceptionally accurate using N320 with bullets from 180 grains to 230 grains — it will shoot as accurately as some expensive customs I’ve tried. At right is 5-round group I shot offhand at 10 yards with my 5″ S&W 1911. The bullet hole edges are sharp because I was using semi-wad-cutters. Rounds were loaded with Vihtavuori N320 and 200-grain SWCs from Precision Bullets in Texas.
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Brownells now offers a full line of name-brand reloading equipment and supplies — all backed by Brownells unconditional lifetime guarantee. The new Brownells reloading product line features Dies, Presses, and Tools from RCBS, Lee Precision, Lyman, Redding, Sinclair International, and many more. Along with reloading tools and equipment, Brownells will offer reloading components (Brass, Bullets, Primers, Powder, etc.) from major manufacturers including Hornady, Nosler, Sierra, Hodgdon, Remington, Winchester, and others.
To kick off the launch of its new Reloading product line, Brownells is running a limited-time promotion. For orders containing reloading products, customers can receive a $10 discount on orders totaling more than $99, a $20 discount on orders totaling more than $199, or a $30 discount on orders totaling more than $299. Don’t delay. These special discounts are valid Thursday, August 16, 2012 through Monday, August 20, 2012. Use product codes DRR ($99+), DRS ($199+), or DRT ($299+) during check-out.
“We are excited to launch our new reloading category,” said Pete Brownell, President/CEO of Brownells. “Much like the addition of our ammunition line last year, the ‘You asked, we listened’ philosophy played a major part in our decision. We found that many of our customers enjoy reloading and find it to be a cost saver, so we’re happy to provide them with the supplies they want.”
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Vihtavuori has updated the loading information for a number of popular rifle chamberings. You can find the updated reloading data online in the Vihtavuori Reloading database. The updated online information supplements the Vihtavuori Reloading Guide (10th Edition) print version (and its PDF version). The online Reloading Database has been revised with updated and enhanced loading data (including some new powder options) for the following cartridges:
.300 Win Mag
.338 Lapua Magnum
NOTE: Vihtavuori promises that: “The updated PDF for the downloads section and the printed version of the guide will be available at the end of the year 2012″.
Story Tip by EdLongrange. We welcome reader submissions.
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