The Firing Line Forums

Go Back   The Firing Line Forums > The Skunkworks > Handloading, Reloading, and Bullet Casting

Reply
 
Thread Tools
Old August 14, 2011, 03:30 PM   #1
Geezerbiker
Senior Member
 
Join Date: March 20, 2011
Location: Willamina, OR
Posts: 611
Bad powder

For the first time I have a can of what seems to be bad gunpowder. I decided on IMR 4895 for a load, I opened a new can, poured some into the powder measure and up came a cloud of fine brown dust. According to the Speer reloading manual, the powder is bad. Frantically, I checked all my other cans of powder and all are fine. I probably bought it 10 years ago so there's no returning it.

I've always stored my powder in original cans, in a plastic tub in my bedroom closet. While I'm sure my cans of powder cans have gotten warm but not expressively hot.

Anyway I'm curious, is IMR4895 more likely to go bad than other powders or is it more likely that it experienced over heating before I bought it?

Tony
Geezerbiker is offline  
Old August 14, 2011, 03:53 PM   #2
I be he
Member
 
Join Date: July 30, 2011
Posts: 20
I think it was doomed from the start. I would doubt there is much difference if any on shelf life of modern powders.
I be he is offline  
Old August 14, 2011, 03:57 PM   #3
jepp2
Senior Member
 
Join Date: December 24, 2008
Location: Loveland, CO
Posts: 1,361
I have some IMR 4895 that is about 40 years old and still just fine. So I don't think 4895 has a shorter than normal shelf life.
jepp2 is offline  
Old August 14, 2011, 05:19 PM   #4
Geezerbiker
Senior Member
 
Join Date: March 20, 2011
Location: Willamina, OR
Posts: 611
That's about what I thought. I'm assuming that this can got cooked somewhere in the supply chain.

I had several years where I was either too busy or broke to go shooting and I shelved my reloading stuff. Otherwise I would have opened this can soon enough to take it back where I bought it...

Tony
Geezerbiker is offline  
Old August 14, 2011, 05:59 PM   #5
crowbeaner
Senior Member
 
Join Date: June 4, 2007
Location: Upstate SC
Posts: 1,938
I was taught to reload from a man who NEVER threw powder away. All he did was to pour the powder SLOWLY into the measure, and gently blow the fine red dust away. I tried this with a couple cans of 4320 once and it worked just fine. It made some of the most accurate ammo my old '06 ever ate. As long as it smells like ether, it is good.
__________________
If you want your children to follow in your footsteps, be careful where you walk.
Beware the man that only owns one gun; he probably knows how to use it.
I just hope my ship comes in before my dock rots.
crowbeaner is offline  
Old August 14, 2011, 06:59 PM   #6
hooligan1
Senior Member
 
Join Date: July 18, 2010
Location: Independence Missouri
Posts: 3,395
I also own some IMR 4895 that is easily from the late 80's that is still fine.... hey maybe it's time to use it up!!! thanks for giving me an idear dude!!
__________________
Thanks for coming!
hooligan1 is online now  
Old August 14, 2011, 11:26 PM   #7
Geezerbiker
Senior Member
 
Join Date: March 20, 2011
Location: Willamina, OR
Posts: 611
Crowbeaner, I find that very interesting. The funny thing is it smells fine. I've always been told that decomposing powder has a strong acidic smell and the suspect can smells the same as the new can I bought last year.

I wouldn't have bought more but with powder but while it was scarce, I was buying any can of powder I saw if it was anything I used...

Tony
Geezerbiker is offline  
Old August 15, 2011, 08:00 AM   #8
243winxb
Senior Member
 
Join Date: July 26, 2011
Posts: 1,051
Powder went Bad-All stored in the same place/conditions.

This old Dupont went bad on me. 2 other IMR 4895 cans were OK. I counld not read the lot number on the bad one to know if all were the same.
243winxb is offline  
Old August 16, 2011, 10:00 AM   #9
Slamfire
Senior Member
 
Join Date: May 27, 2007
Posts: 4,133
243XB, I would like to copy your picture of those cans and use them in the future. I hope you have no objections?

Whether powder is good is not easily answered unless the powder has gross indications of going bad.

The gross indications are the bitter smell due to NOx, red powder granules, fuming gas emissions, others have said “red gas”. By the time you see this the powder went bad a long time before.

Half of all the surplus IMR 4895 I purchased went bad.

The first 16 lbs, I used up eight pounds quickly. For whatever reason, I pulled the bullets on some of that stuff and found green corrosion on the bases of the bullets.

Similar to these pull down bullets from old US ammunition. Not the horrible one, but the small green spots.





I don't remember what US ammunition these came off, I pulled them decades ago, might have been WWII ammunition that came back from China.

The last eight pounds, it sat around. When I opened the bottle top, it smelled bitter. Red dust flew around.

I gave it to a machine gunner guy. He put it in the laundry room. Passing by the laundry room he tossed soiled shorts at the hamper, but missed. The short ended up on top of the powder bottle. Overnight, acid gas from the bottle ate holes in the shorts!! This freaked my friend and he poured the stuff out over his lawn.

Since then I have had more surplus 4895 powder from a different vendor go bad in the case. Green corrosion on the bottom of the bullets and cracked case necks.

This powder never smelt bitter at all. I shot this powder in highpower matches and it shot exceptionally well, but case necks cracked after firing. I also received “funny” retorts and the occasional sticky extraction. The longer the ammunition sat around the more cases necks would split when fired. In time virtually all of the remaining 700 loaded cases experienced cracked case necks without the stresses of firing.

From what I had read on the internet, which is a repeat of what is said in gun magazines, powder has an “indefinite” shelf life. Remember reading statements to the effect that powder lost energy as it got old, making it essentially benign.

Then I ran into an Insensitive Munitions expert. This IM expert explained that powder deteriorates from the day it leaves the factory.

Nitrocellulose decomposes through the reduction-oxidation process. Called Redox. The molecular stability of the functional groups on the organic chain determine the life time of the nitrocellulose molecule. All ionic compounds, water is the main offender because it is always in air, react with those bonds and accelerates the deterioration of the powder.

The bottom line is that nitrocellulose is a high energy molecule that wants to become a low energy molecule.

Heat accelerates the deterioration/decomposition of powder and the rate is directly proportional to the Arrhenius equation. If you read in the Insensitive munitions literature, you will see that they use high temperature to accelerate aging of smokeless propellants.

Double based powders have a reduced lifetime compared with single base. Double based powders have nitroglycerin (NG) in the grain. Nitroglycerine remains a liquid and it migrates within the grain to react with the NO bonds on the nitrocellulose, increasing the rate of reduction-oxidation reaction. All ionic compounds react with those bonds and accelerate the deterioration of the powder. Rust is bad as ferric oxide is ionic. Water is ionic and is ever present in air.

Because water reacts in a negative way with smokeless propellants, quality ammunition is manufactured in humidity controlled environments. Between 40% and 20% humidity. They don't go lower due to electro static discharge concerns.

The best storage condition for powders is arctic. Cold and dry.

Due to the migration of NG within double based powders, the surface of the grain will become rich in NG even though the total energy content of the propellant has decreased. This will cause changes in the burn rate, and can cause pressures to spike. The surface of nitrocellulose powders also change as the powder deteriorates, and it changes unevenly. This creates conditions for erratic burn rates. Burn rate instability is undesirable and can cause explosive conditions in firearms. In retrospect, this explains the “funny” retorts I experienced and the sticking cases. It is an extremely rare occurrence, but old ammunition has caused rifle Kabooms.


NOx gas is a mix of compounds all of which are reactive. When smokeless propellants break down NOx gas is released. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NOx http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nitrogen_oxide Nitric acid gas is only produced in the presence of water, because it requires a hydronimun ion, but there is plenty of water in air. It is called humidity.

Section from the Propellant Management Guide:

Quote:
Stabilizers are chemical ingredients added to propellant at time of manufacture to decrease the rate of propellant degradation and reduce the probability of auto ignition during its expected useful life.

As nitrocellulose-based propellants decompose, they release nitrogen oxides. If the nitrogen oxides are left free to react in the propellant, they can react with the nitrate ester, causing further decomposition and additional release of nitrogen oxides. The reaction between the nitrate ester and the nitrogen oxides is exothermic (i.e., the reaction produces heat). Heat increases the rate of propellant decomposition. More importantly, the exothermic nature of the reaction creates a problem if sufficient heat is generated to initiate combustion. Chemical additives, referred to as stabilizers, are added to propellant formulations to react with free nitrogen oxides to prevent their attack on the nitrate esters in the propellant. The stabilizers are scavengers that act rather like sponges, and once they become “saturated” they are no longer able to remove nitrogen oxides from the propellant. Self-heating of the propellant can occur unabated at the “saturation” point without the ameliorating effect of the stabilizer. Once begun, the self-heating may become sufficient to cause auto ignition
.


The Armed Forces have stockpile surveillance programs but each Service does theirs a little differently. If you want to see all the different tests the military uses to determine propellant characteristics, look at Mils Std 286 Propellants, Solid: Sampling, Examination and Testing to be found at https://assist.daps.dla.mil/quicksearch/.

If you look, you will find aging tests. One common test is for powder to be kept at 65 C until it fumes. It if fumes within 30 days it is checked for stabilizer or scrapped.

The Navy expert told me a few ways the Navy samples its powders and propellants. If the powder is outgassing nitric gas (as determined by change of color of methly violet paper in contact with the powder (Methly Violet test, or Talliani test)), the stuff is tested to see how much stabilizer is left. If the amount is less than or equal to 20%, the lot is scrapped.

Scrapping powders and propellants with this percentage of stabilizer appears to be consistent across all services.

Pages 5-11 of the 2003 Army Logistics Propellant Management Guide provide the protocols for testing and subsequent actions for their Stockpile Propellant Program. Basically, all propellant lots are tracked. The trigger for investigation is: "When Master Sample Stability Failure Occurs"

The Navy expert provided 'rules of thumb' concerning when to expect problems with double based and single based propellants. The rules of thumb are: Double based powders and ammunition are scrapped at 20 years, single based 45 years. In his words “These 'rules of thumb' are particularly useful when the protocol fails. The protocol can easily fail when workmanship or good housekeeping measures are not followed during manufacture of propellant and/or rocket motor or during storage of the weapon system components, respectively.”


The expert suggested that it is likely that surplus military powders are not on the market anymore due to liability issues. The stuff was scrapped because the military decided it was not safe to keep around anymore.

For the home reloader, if the powder has turned red, or smells like acid, it is way beyond its safe limits.

I am of the opinion that the reason this is not discussed in the popular gun press is because if the shooting community knew that powders had a shelf life, it might effect sales. As we all know, gunwriters are shills for the industry and for decades the shills have been reassuring us that as powder gets old, it becomes benign. I cannot see a reason why industry wants you, the shooter, to be picky about old powders and old ammunition. You might not buy, you might have reservations about buying. It is all about profits you know.

The military does not talk about this, but bunkers and ammunition storage areas have gone Kaboom due to old powder. That nitric acid builds up, creates heat, and the stuff blows up. It blows up inside the case or the shell.

http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=13c_1205681217

This powder is from a FA 11-1898 30-40 Krag cartridge. Obviously it is bad.





I sent the IM expert the link with this Garand blowup, http://www.socnet.com/showthread.php?p=1344088
and the pictures of my corroded bullets and pulled Krag red powder, and this is what he wrote back:

Wow

The red color indicates that the stabilizer is depleted and the redox reaction is degrading the nitrate ester. (I assume this is a single base gun propellant, and the nitrate ester is NC.) Please dispose of this powder and ammo supply before it starts to get warm or self-heat (via autocatalytic exothermic reaction). This stuff can be a runaway reaction and spotaneously explode in storage.

The cracked case necks are proof that the outgassing of NOx is occurring. The pressure build-up is evidently enough to fatigue the metal at a high stress location in the cartridge case (@ the neck bend). You should also see a bulge in the cartridge base (where the firing pin would strike b/c there is a circular joint crimp there between the two metals). This ammo would explosively vent at the crack if you tried to fire it in a gun. Just like the Garand example you sent. Please discard this ammo.

The corroded ammo is the same as above (redox reaction gassing NOx) except this stuff actually got wet too. Water provides a medium for corrosive acid reactions to result. Please discard this ammo.

Lessons learned -
(1) Ammo has a finite shelf life
(2) Ammo can be dangerous


More to read if you wish:

www.dtic.mil/dticasd/sbir/sbir031/n154.doc

This paper discusses most of what I have written, but it has a confusing section where it states that “Suddenly, propellant that has spent its entire life in a configuration that was considered inherently safe from the risk of auto ignition is now bulk packaged and stored in a concentrated mass that may be sufficient to allow auto ignition to occur.” After discussions with the Navy expert I found that the insensitive munitions community has its own myths and legends. There are groups within the IM community who promote the “5 inch” rule. The theory is that for munitions 5 inch and smaller, the thermal mass of the case is sufficient to wick away heat and prevent auto ignition. The Navy expert considers this theory to be bogus and created by self serving individuals who get cash awards when they “extend the shelf life” of propellants. Never doubt the power of greed.

http://www.almc.army.mil/alog/issues...t_stab_eq.html
.
__________________
If I'm not shooting, I'm reloading.

Last edited by Slamfire; August 16, 2011 at 10:19 AM.
Slamfire is offline  
Old August 16, 2011, 11:17 AM   #10
243winxb
Senior Member
 
Join Date: July 26, 2011
Posts: 1,051
Quote:
243XB, I would like to copy your picture of those cans and use them in the future. I hope you have no objections?
Use powder can photos as you wish. Many of the other photos on photobucket are internet photos, not mine. I try to link to the story where the photos came from. http://www.photobucket.com/joe1944usa

Last edited by 243winxb; August 16, 2011 at 11:33 AM.
243winxb is offline  
Old August 16, 2011, 11:52 AM   #11
Eazmo
Senior Member
 
Join Date: April 15, 2011
Location: Arizona
Posts: 164
so should one keep his powder in a freezer????????
I'm in Arizona where it's hotter than you know were.
I do store powder in the house but its still 80deg in the summer.
I do have a full size freezer running in the garage ( cold and dry )
__________________
I'm just an average man
I drive a average van
My dog ain't got no pedigree!
Eazmo is offline  
Old August 16, 2011, 02:06 PM   #12
Edward429451
Junior member
 
Join Date: November 12, 2000
Location: Colorado Springs, Colorado
Posts: 9,494
That should almost be a sticky. I have always been under the impression that bad gun powder just gets weaker so is benign. I wouldn't try to load powder with red dust in it anyway, but some do apparently.

My new 8 lb jug of IMR 4895 surplus is already in line for stock rotation anyway. As soon as I finish prepping the 2000+ pcs of brass. I suppose the lesson here is don't sit on Surplus powders too long because they come to you old already.
Edward429451 is offline  
Old August 16, 2011, 03:34 PM   #13
abber
Senior Member
 
Join Date: January 15, 2008
Location: PRK
Posts: 733
None of my powder gets old
__________________
I ain't got no safe queens. I shoots em all...
abber is offline  
Old August 17, 2011, 02:13 PM   #14
Geezerbiker
Senior Member
 
Join Date: March 20, 2011
Location: Willamina, OR
Posts: 611
From these posts, I'm thinking that 4895 doesn't keep as well as other powders. I'm going to shoot up what I have and switch to something else...

Tony
Geezerbiker is offline  
Old August 17, 2011, 03:27 PM   #15
Mike Irwin
Staff
 
Join Date: April 13, 2000
Location: Northern Virginia
Posts: 36,235
Slamfire,

You know, I bet that powder from the pulled .30-40 Krag round is still good.

In 1898 the United States fought a sudden war with Spain.

The rapid ramp up in military force levels caused severe supply problems with things like ammunition for the new Krag rifle. As was to be the case later with the M1903 in the run up to World War I, the US took a VERY lax attitude towards readiness, especially with consumable items like ammunition.

Ammo production had to be ramped up to levels that hadn't been seen since the Civil War, and in order to meet production quotas, steps started to be skipped.

One of the steps that was skipped on many lots of powder was apparently the graphite coating, which left the powder in its natural coloring, which can range from clear to yellow to amber to orange to strongly red.

Over the years I've pulled several bullets from Krag ammo loaded in this time frame, and the powder looked identical to what you're showing there.

Oddly enough, many of the early smokeless powders were quite stable long term.
__________________
"The gift which I am sending you is called a dog, and is in fact the most precious and valuable possession of mankind" -Theodorus Gaza

Baby Jesus cries when the fat redneck doesn't have military-grade firepower.
Mike Irwin is offline  
Old August 17, 2011, 04:23 PM   #16
TATER
Senior Member
 
Join Date: November 19, 2002
Location: Mississippi
Posts: 942
Mike,
Kinda looks like diced cordite.
TATER is offline  
Old August 17, 2011, 09:48 PM   #17
Mike Irwin
Staff
 
Join Date: April 13, 2000
Location: Northern Virginia
Posts: 36,235
"Kinda looks like diced cordite"

Well, cordite and American smokeless powders are both nitrocellulose based, so they're very similar in appearance when they're untreated.

That's the thing about cordite... since it was never intended to be poured into cases, it didn't have to be treated with graphite. Graphite is added to most powders to promote flow characteristics and dissipate any static that might build up during handling.

That powder is most likely one of the very early Du Pont powders Military Rifle powders. It's doubtful that it's one of the Hercules powders, which at that time (WA 30 Lightning) were all disk shaped.
__________________
"The gift which I am sending you is called a dog, and is in fact the most precious and valuable possession of mankind" -Theodorus Gaza

Baby Jesus cries when the fat redneck doesn't have military-grade firepower.
Mike Irwin is offline  
Reply

Thread Tools

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 11:32 PM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2014, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.
This site and contents, including all posts, Copyright © 1998-2014 S.W.A.T. Magazine
Copyright Complaints: Please direct DMCA Takedown Notices to the registered agent: thefiringline.com
Contact Us
Page generated in 0.12564 seconds with 7 queries