Any time you go to choose reloading components, you have to ask yourself- with all of the choices out there, which product is right for this application?
When you’re selecting a pistol powder, here are a few things to consider:
- Caliber, barrel length, power level, bullet weight
- Metering capabilities
- Load data
- Safety and case capacity
I know this is not an exhaustive list, but it’s enough to get you started – so let’s take a look at each of these considerations…
Before you get started, you may want to read the following article on smokeless gunpowders from the “Reloading 101” section on this site:
Now that you have the basics down, let’s talk about the criteria from our list:
Caliber, barrel length, power level, bullet weight
Any time you go to figure something out, you have to start somewhere, and with powder selection, the caliber you’re going to load for is the place to start. Some calibers perform better with faster powders (such as 9mm) where other calibers will favor slower powders (such as 44 Magnum). If you look at online sources of load data, or in your reloading manual, you can pick the caliber you’re loading for, and see what powders are listed. If you have a short barreled gun (snub nose revolver or short barreled automatic) then you should look for faster powders. If you have a long barrel handgun (like a 6″ revolver) you can use slower powders. You also need to decide how powerful your loads will be. If you’re loading 44 Magnum, and want to reduce your load, you have to be careful not to use powders that are intended for heavy loads such as Hodgdon H-110/Winchester 296 (same powder). Those powders require 90%+ load level to burn properly and can be dangerous if down-loaded. Bullet weight will also make a difference on what powder you use. Generally, lighter bullets can handle faster powders, and heavier bullets will favor slower powders. Consult your load data to determine which powder is right for your bullet weight.
If you’re loading for pistol, you’re likely using a progressive reloading press. Each press has it’s own powder measure design, and each has types of powder that it will meter better, and types of powder that meter less reliably. In general, flake powders (such as Alliant Unique) are not as consistent as ball powders or flattened ball powders (such as Winchester 213/Hodgdon HP-38 – the same powder).
I’ve already mentioned that consulting load data is a good way to pick a powder. If you have abundant load data (start with manufacturer data, then look at user-supplied data on websites) then you may have more “tried and true” options for your loads. If you don’t see load data posted, don’t assume you can’t use that powder, but be prepared to do some foot work to find out what the correct load should be. Load data from trusted sources (forum participants you trust, friends, etc) can be a good way to go.
Safety and Case Capacity
Some loads do not fill the case very much in terms of air to powder ratio. If you add a tall slender case to the equation (think 38 special) then you will have a tough time visually inspecting the powder level while you load. It would be very easy to double-charge if you had an equipment malfunction or other stoppage of your workflow. There are two options here to make sure you are safe: first would be to use a powder that will “overflow” upon a double chare, the second is to use a powder check system. Dillon, Hornady, and RCBS offer great powder checking solutions – better safe than sorry!
Let’s face it- in this political climate some times you have to be creative with what you can find due to the shortage of reloading components we are currently suffering through. You may have to start with what powders are available, and select primers, bullets, and load data from that standpoint. What’s important is to always use reliable load data, and don’t experiment with potentially dangerous unknown loads. Always check your load data from two sources if possible, and ALWAYS double check your load data before starting your loading process! Keeping good records is a great idea as well.
I think it’s important to consider the cost of powder, but it’s the last thing to consider in my opinion. The proper application for your intended uses and the safety factor are more important. Some powders are more expensive than others, and some loads are more expensive than others. Usually the cost of bullets is much more than the cost of primers or powder (unless you cast your own bullets). If you want to calculate the cost of powder for your loads, just remember that 1 pound = 7000 grains. It’s easy enought to calculate once you know that.
There you have it. Some thoughts to keep in mind when you go to pick a powder. If you’re going to order a 5lb cannister of powder, you better be sure of what you’re getting
Did I miss anything here? Feel free to comment with your thoughts.