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Old September 20, 2013, 11:42 AM   #1
Eppie
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Is there a bias against ball powder? Why?

Let's get the disclaimers out of the way. I'm not in any shape or form deriving any income from any firearm powder manufacturer or related, dealer, distributor etc... I'm just a Joe that likes to shoot .308.

I started out with a LnL AP press using Varget and IMR4064. Excellent powders but because they are stick powders they did not measure well on my powder measure. My press manual indicated that ball powder was preferred on a progressive press. So, I switched to a ball powder, and I've had equally good results with ball powder than I did with the stick powder.

Yet whenever I often see posts of people complaining about measuring issues with stick powders it seems like people (mfg reps?) crawl out of the woodwork and proceed to insist that there is nothing wrong with the powder, but it is the user, the powder measure, the vibrating workbench, etc...

It seems there a real bias against ball powder. Maybe it's time that somebody recognized that the Emperor has no clothes. And please don't tell me all the world records are won with stick powder blah, blah, blah... I know things were a lot simpler when Ma Bell had a monopoly, but times change.

Let's hear it from ball powder users.
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Old September 20, 2013, 11:52 AM   #2
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As far as I know, the only bias against ball powders tends to be in serious competition. I has been proven that ball powders do not shoot as accurately as stick powder, when fractions of an MOA matter at very long range.

Most of the rest of us use it if it works well enough. One of my loads is W748 under 35gr Nosler LF in .22-250. Shoots like a laser at 4,435fps and is very accurate out to as far as we can shoot, which is 400-ish.
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Old September 20, 2013, 01:01 PM   #3
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I like it. I use a lot of Autocomp in my 9mm. Haven't tried it yet in my .308, because mainly I like IMR4895 in my .308 match ammo.

I'm getting ready to try 2000-mr that is supposed to be somewhat like spherical, but we'll see. Haven't opened the jugs yet.
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Old September 20, 2013, 01:10 PM   #4
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I'm getting ready to try 2000-mr that is supposed to be somewhat like spherical, but we'll see. Haven't opened the jugs yet.
It's more of a "squished" spherical. Not really spheres but not really anything else. It meters like water and I think you'll like it in the .308 Win. During testing I got north of 2950 fps with a 150 grain bullet. I wrote it up at my blog, but I haven't really done anything with it since 2011. I think that the powder has some marvelous qualities, but I'm still working through several pounds of other powders.

I like Power Pro 2000 MR.
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Old September 20, 2013, 01:30 PM   #5
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The reason is two-fold. One is how progressivity of the burn is controlled. Stick powders do this primarily by their geometry. In particular, is it perforations in the grain burning from the inside out so that the surface area and thus the rate at which gas is made, keeps increasing until the perfations burn through. In a spherical propellant, progressivity depends entirely on a heavy deterrent coating with diminishing concentration toward the center of the grain that causes the powder's exterior to burn slowly and then to burn faster and faster as the deterrent concentration diminishes. That diminishing concentration not only has to allow gas to evolve faster as the bullet starts to move, but it also has to make up for the fact the solid grain's surface area is always diminishing. So the concentration has to move from high to low exponentially. This means it is very high on the outside, making spherical powders harder to ignite than stick powders are.

According to Alan Jones, CCI changed its magnum primer formulation in 1989 specifically to improve ignition of spherical powders. They work well, but having to use a magnum primer has its own disadvantage which is the primer variation and flash hole size and centering and burr variation all have more effect on starting pressure than when a standard primer is used, so the effect of these error sources is exaggerated. Benchrest shooters pretty uniformly report that using the mildest possible primer introduces the least ignition variation, and thus provides the most consistent velocities. But these primers don't work as well with most spherical powders.

A second factor is that when a stick powder throws a heavy charge from a measure, it's because the powder packed more tightly in the metering chamber. Stick powders can pack a lot, and that narrows the spaces between the grains, making it harder for hot gases to pass between them to ignite the powder. The result is that even though the charge weight is heavy, the more densely packed powder lights up like a slower burning powder would, thus tending to compensate some for the added charge weight error. So even though stick powders don't dispense as consistently from a volumetric measure as spherical powders do, neither does the weight error always have as much effect as it would with a spherical powder. This compensation effect works best with specific powders in specific loads, and is part of what finding a powder your gun likes is all about.

Here's an example: Hatcher wrote that in developing the load for National Match ammunition one year (late 1920's) he had two powders with burn rates about like modern IMR 4320. One had long grains while the other had short grains that metered more than twice as accurately in the arsenal loading equipment. It could hold the short grain to an extreme spread of 0.6 grains (±0.3 grains) and the long stick only to an extreme spread of 1.7 grains. Nonetheless, the long stick loads proved consistently more accurate than the short stick loads in machine rest testing, and wound up being selected for that year's National Match ammo and several records were set with it.

What happened there was probably a combination of the packing change in burn rate being more optimal with the longer grain and the longer grain tending to keep its thrown pack better than the short grain powder did. Better case fill could do that.

Finally, because spherical powders are double-base powders, they have higher energy content per grain, on average, than single-base stick powders. Add to this that their bulk density tends to be higher, and you find case fill is poorer with equivalent loads of spherical and stick propellants that have similar burn rates. That poorer case fill causes ignition to be less regular and also adds to the need to use a magnum primer to achieve adequate start pressure in the extra empty space.

All that said, a lab tech at Western Powder told me their Ramshot line has more modern deterrent formulations that don't require magnum primers to light properly. Several people I've spoken with think very well of TAC as a match powder. So the norm may gradually shift. But most of the spherical powders we commonly use today are cannister grades of the Western Cannon (WC) series of bulk powders out of St. Marks that were developed for the military around 40-50 years ago and that do not have the modern coating technology. Examples would be WC844, WC846, and WC852, which are sold in controlled burn rate canister grade as H335, BL-C(2), and H380 to handloaders. But there are a lot of others in that series, as well.

Last, I'll offer you a personal experience. In 1995 I decided to try shooting Accurate 2520 in the M1A I was then competing with. Using the 168 grain Sierra Match King, that gun could be tuned to shoot to 0.75 moa at 100 yards off the bench, using IMR 4895, IMR 4064, or Scott Brigadier 3032, all single-base stick powders. But with 2520, it stubbornly refused to do better than 1.25 moa. I had poor case fill, for one. For another, at the time I was using Federal 210M primers, then being blissfully unaware of slamfire issues. So, one day, on a whim (mainly because I'd just bought the tool) I decided to try deburring the case flash holes. The 2520 groups dropped right down to 0.75 moa where the stick powders were (and probably the limit for any powder in that particular copy of the M1A). The stick powders never noticed the difference between deburred or as-sold flash holes, but the 2520 had to have them deburred. If I'd known then what I do now, I'd have tried a CCI magnum primer and might have got the same result. I found deburring flash holes extra work and dropped that powder before I ever tried the magnum primer experiment.

The bottom line is I think spherical powders can be made to shoot pretty well, but it's easier to get stick powders to do it. YMMV. If you find it important (compare your targets to learn this) to meter stick powder more accurately, the JDS Quick Measure and its progressive press adapter will do it, but that combination will set you back over $300. You can also try adding an extra powder baffle to your current measure to increase powder column weight control. Search this forum to find my powder baffles and some others available here. Some fellows use heavy rubber bands to attach a fish tank aerator pump to the powder hopper that is driven by a short ( one second or two) timer relay and triggers when the measure's metering chamber is filling to make packing density more consistent. Also, in another post I was recently reminded that really solid anchoring of your measure to a heavy bench will mitigate vibration effects caused by any kind of irregular operation, including small shocks from cutting grains, etc.
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Last edited by Unclenick; September 21, 2013 at 11:29 AM. Reason: corrected confusing sentence. Added a small bit of info.
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Old September 20, 2013, 01:36 PM   #6
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I have no issue with them, though I don't use them in rounds I reload for hunting.

But for things like my AR, Garand and even some of my .223 bolt action reloads, H335 is a wonderful powder.

I've not once had a single issue with getting the powder to burn with everything from Winchester to Federal to Wolf regular primers either.

I think older formulas of ball powder, especially bulk grade, were more sensitive to temperature (especially very cold) variations, and that may be where a lot of the bad mouthing of it comes from, along with the accuracy stuff pointed out above.
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Old September 20, 2013, 03:35 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PawPaw View Post
It's more of a "squished" spherical. Not really spheres but not really anything else. It meters like water and I think you'll like it in the .308 Win. During testing I got north of 2950 fps with a 150 grain bullet. I wrote it up at my blog, but I haven't really done anything with it since 2011. I think that the powder has some marvelous qualities, but I'm still working through several pounds of other powders.

I like Power Pro 2000 MR.
Thanks for the link to your blog. Good read. I can't wait to try it out now. I'll be shooting my workup this weekend pushing 175's.
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Old September 20, 2013, 03:42 PM   #8
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Unclenick, you probably already know this, but for those that don't, AA 2520 is made in the same Belgian plant that produces all of the Ramshot spherical powders except their shotgun powder Competition which is a St. Mark's product, as is Silhouette that was formerly sold by Winchester as WAP. AA2230 = X-terminator. Accurate has no identical powder to TAC and Ramshot has no version of 2520. There is one Ramshot powder that's not sold in the US and is sold in Europe as Wild Boar. I can't say for sure what powder it would be here, if any, but I've wondered if it might be the same as 2520. Something I need to ask Western's ballistician about the next time I email. Also, Big Game has a very similar burn rate as H-380, so it has some application in .308 where a slower powder is needed. TAC seems to be at it's best with bullets lighter than 165 grs. I have worked up a very accurate handload with it using the 150 gr. Ballistic Tip.

Another duplication exists with their handgun propellants where AA 4100 = Enforcer.
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Old September 20, 2013, 04:38 PM   #9
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I've gone through an 8 lb keg of Power Pro 2000-MR loading 75gr HPBT and 80gr Amax loads for my AR-15 service rifle.

The only possible improvement I could think of is adding tin dioxide to the mix as an anti coppering agent. Other than that, I have no issues at all.

Pushing heavy for caliber bullets with PowerPro 2k has made the 223 Rem a viable long range cartridge for F Class shooters who single load in rifles with custom throats for long loaded match bullets. When you compare Power Pro 2k to the stick powders in the same burn range, Reloader 15, Varget, IMR4064, you see that the load density can really work for you when you have limited case capacity with the 223 brass.

This is a very specific application where a ball powder (or squished disk powder) really shines over a stick powder. Anyone who has shot F Class knows that the accuracy standards at 1000 yards are tough to hold, with that half minute X ring.

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Old September 20, 2013, 09:44 PM   #10
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57K,

Yes. And to be fair to St. Marks, they keep coming out with new stuff, too. I assume (since I got it long before the Ramshot line was available) that 2520 is one of the older ones developed by the Belgium company. And I did finally get it to shoot, though I did not try it through temperature extremes. 748 is a St. Marks spherical powder that's been used by competitors a fair amount is probably the same vintage as the others, though I can't think offhand of any national champion level user, but I don't know of them all.

WC844 was originally fast end of spectrum WC846. You can read some of the history here. All Vietnam War era developments. The difference between WC844 and H335 is the canister grade is blended with held back extra fast or extra slow lots, as needed, to bring burn rate to withing ±3% of a standard. Otherwise they are the same.

Ignition irregularity is not normally in the form of ignition failure. It usually is manifested as more difficulty in getting low velocity SD's. This can be accompanied by ignition delays in the milliseconds that a shooter doesn't feel, but that can show up on the target because of the barrel time differences.
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Last edited by Unclenick; September 21, 2013 at 11:21 AM. Reason: clarification
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Old September 20, 2013, 10:52 PM   #11
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Unclenick,
You are a gentleman and a scholar. Thank you for taking the time to educate me/us.
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Old September 20, 2013, 10:52 PM   #12
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Great info, Unclenick. I'd heard about some of the stuff you mentioned about the start up differences with a charge of stick powder compared to ball, but nothing as clear and concise as what you posted.

I might put that away some place then post it with credit to your for putting all those words in the correct order to make sense to reloaders.

Well done.
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Old September 21, 2013, 12:37 PM   #13
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My bias is not based on ball vs. stick- but on temperature sensitivity.

It's a variable that can be eliminated, so in my mind I chose to do that from the git-go. The extruded stick powders (Varget, H4350, 8208 XBR) shoot great across multiple calibers so I see no need to go to ball powder- even though I would get more precise metering.

FWIW, my very first handloads were .223 for a Rem 700. H335 is supposedly a top contender for this- and shot like crap out of that rifle with a wide range of bullet weights. Every rifle's different, but I still prefer extruded powders over ball.
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Old September 21, 2013, 01:27 PM   #14
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Bart,

Thanks. I reread and corrected a confused sentence about range that must have been a cut and paste error, and made a couple of other minor clarifications. I also added the suggestion to anchor a powder measure really firmly to limit vibration-induced error, per posts in another recent thread.

I want to emphasize that if someone has something that shoots well in their particular gun and over their range of application conditions, that's the bottom line and it's what they want to use regardless of whether the powder grains are a stick, a sphere, a flake or a convoluted inverse trapezoidal munge pile. Neither match officials nor Boone and Crockett Official Measurers give you points for powder grain shape. The proof is always in the pudding. It's just that you would be wise to try different powders and to be aware that, as in Hatcher's example, it's not a "gimmie" that because you can throw charge weights of one powder more tightly than you can others that it will necessarily be the better performer on paper. You just have to try these things out and see what you can get them to do.
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Old September 21, 2013, 01:39 PM   #15
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tobnpr said: My bias is not based on ball vs. stick- but on temperature sensitivity.
Since you're in Florida I understand. A guy at my range told me that he had tried ball powder in the late seventies and left a couple of boxes of reloads exposed to the Houston sun and he said that it started popping like popcorn. I tried it out last summer with Winchester 760 and left a couple rounds out in the sun all day long and nothing happened. Either he was pulling my leg or the chemistry has changed.
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Old September 21, 2013, 05:08 PM   #16
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Eppie, I think he was pulling you leg.
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Old September 21, 2013, 05:46 PM   #17
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I think he was pulling your leg. I went to ball powders many years ago, early 70's as I recall beause messing with irregular powder drops with the larger stick powders was driving me sane. A while back I was doing a load work up for my ex-son in law's new .300 WSM. He furnished the components and that's what I was stuck with. IMR4831 and his bullets and primers of choice. I won't go into the hours it took to get the ldder tests charged up but let's jsu say more time than I care to spend in a hot shed on a 100 plus degree day. Well the loads wee shot and I had to get more powder and bullets so the wife and I went to the LGS and while there I pointed out that RCBS Chargemaster 1500. Told he that some day I get me one of them. She said, "Why not today?" Gotta love that woman. Guess that's why I've kept her around for the last 4 years. I got the next batch of test loads done in just under an hour. Probably would have even quicker but I was learning the tool. The next day the ex-son in law came by to try his rifle out along with the custom loads I made. When we got back from the range, I made him do all the reloading work including throwing stick powders from the Uniflow. Then we finished the rest of the brass with the Chargemaster. The next day he calls and tells me he's bought a complete reloading kit just like mine except he bought Lyman's version of the Chargemaster. The nice thing is now I can use whatever type powder I want, stick or ball with the same convenience.
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Old September 21, 2013, 06:12 PM   #18
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Next range workday I'm going to have to think of something.
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Old September 22, 2013, 10:32 AM   #19
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Bias against ball powder? I'd say no, especially given that ball powder is the most popular type used for handgun propellants given the sheer number of offerings.

A lot of people complain about metering problems with IMR type powders, that is true.

But IMR powders are INCREDIBLY forgiving when it comes to variations in charge weight, far more so than ball powders.

I've tried ball powders in a number of my rifles, and I always keep going back to IMR powders. It's just what I like, I guess.
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Old September 22, 2013, 11:04 AM   #20
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Ball Powder

After having some H450 powder start burning & then just quit, i stopped using ball. It will also spike pressure with a slight increase in charge weight when getting close to maximum. IMR powders do not do this. IMO.
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Old September 22, 2013, 12:22 PM   #21
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I have only used AA2520 and AA#5, AA#9, all ball powders, the first for rifle, the others for pistol.

AA2520 blew primers without warning, loads developed in the 70's blew primers in the 90's. A good load shot very well but I found settling issues at long range. For the 223 it was very common to shoot 69's/77's out to 300 yards and change to 80's at 600 yards. The 80 grain cartridges were too long to fit in the magazine. I used 69's at the short range because they hammered. I found that using AA2520 out to 300 yards and then switching to a stick powder at 600 yards, the first sighting shots were wild. This never happened switching from any stick powder at 300 yards to another stick powder at 600 yards.

Even though the ball powder meters better, for both AA2520 and AA#5, I never found the better metering to provide better extreme spreads or standard deviations over my chronograph screens than stick or flake pistol powders. And these are for thrown loads pumped out of my Dillion 550B. If ball powders do not show an improvement in thrown loads, than what is the advantage of better metering?

Ball powders also gum up the powder bar on my Dillion. Little darn powder balls roll between the sliding bar and powder horn and gum up the action.

Ball powders also are hard to ignite in cold weather. I found this out with AA#9 out of a heavily used M586. The mainspring was worn and I had hangfires, misfires, and squibs in cold weather. Loads with 2400 all went bang. I tried AA2520 in a 35 Whelen. In cold weather I had hangfires. This powder should have been appropriate as it is in the IMR 4895 burn rate. I changed out the mainspring, ensured that there was zero headspace between chamber and cartridge. And I dumped the ball powder.

I am of the opinion that ball powders are not as flexible as stick or flake powders.

I will buy them if they are cheap, but they are not my first choice.
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Old September 22, 2013, 04:16 PM   #22
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A lot of my rifle loading is with ball powder, specifically 748. Provides accuracy and velocity in 223, 30-30, 307, 300 savage and 308 win. Works very well in levers, bolts and semi's with a large variation of bullet weights and types. The accurate rifles are easily capable of .5 moa, when I am.

Certainly there may be better specific combinations, but am getting old and cranky to keep trying new powders to fill so many needs. H-4895 works exceptionally well in the 308, but not as well across a wider range of needs (at least for me)

With the exception of 30-30, 748 seems to like the mag primers for accuracy and velocity. Living in a colder climate, use mag primers for a lot of applications.

For pistols use AA-7 specifically for some specific 9mm and general 357 applications, and it too likes a magnum primer.
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Old September 22, 2013, 09:58 PM   #23
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I hated the results I got with 748 in my 300 Savage. I went back to 4064 in short order.
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Old September 23, 2013, 08:23 AM   #24
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I use mostly stick powders both IMR and Hodgdon, the reason is that almost all my loads are compressed loads and I feel stick powders work best for this.

That being said I just purchased some H380 and H414 because it's getting almost impossible to find my favorite stick powders.

So I'm going to try the H380 in my 22-250 and the H414 in my 250 Savage.
If these work out this will free up the use of my stick powders for other calibers I prefer to keep loading with stick powders.

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Old September 23, 2013, 08:36 AM   #25
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somebody, someplace, must have a chart listing all the powders and their shapes and sizes.

Who has the link and will you please post it
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