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Old April 10, 2021, 10:45 PM   #1
FoghornLeghorn
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How long do you guys keep your powder?

There's a discussion going on another forum and some of the guys are talking about currently using powders they bought in the 60s and 70s.

Another guy is talking about the hazard of old powder and danger of spontaneous combustion and don't keep it in the house.

The "bulk" of my powder is only a few months old as I've been stocking up on powder as my "go to" suppliers (Midway, Powder Valley, Midsouth) get some in at pre pandemic prices.

But I've got a some dating back a few years. A nearly full pound jug of 2400 (opened) and two pound jugs of unopened Unique are the oldest. And I'm just finishing up a 4 pound jug of Unique that's maybe older.

How about you?

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Old April 10, 2021, 11:28 PM   #2
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I have only been buying powder for maybe 20 years. The oldest on hand is maybe 15 years old. My wife's Grandpa was a hand loader, and I ended up with a couple of cans of 4895. One had been opened and partially used. The cans were card board with metal bottom and top. Judging from the time lines of the family that powder may have been purchased around 1980. In 2013 I decided to try using it. Worked great! I used all of it in a 204 Ruger. The achieved velocity was close to the Hodgdon load data. That powder had been in a garage for several years.
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Old April 10, 2021, 11:39 PM   #3
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Until I use it all.
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Old April 11, 2021, 01:42 AM   #4
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I still have a little H-4895 that I believe is WWII surplus powder that appears to be as good as new. Using it in 30WCF. Right now, the best quality rifle powder I have is Norma N-205 that has to be 40 or so years old. I've seen younger powders that went bad. Age is only one of the variables that can affect powder condition. I think storage environment and the inherent stability or lack thereof of the final composition can have a much greater effect on the powder's longevity than its age.
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Old April 11, 2021, 06:17 AM   #5
Mike / Tx
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Until I use it all.
Pretty much that...

I've had a can or three go south on me and had some that was recalled that I spread out in the yard over the years.

I usually check less used or older stuff semi- annually. I think my oldest factory is from the 80's, and I have several jugs of pull down surplus that's who knows how old .
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Old April 11, 2021, 01:18 PM   #6
Bob Willman
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I am still using a can of 3031 that is in an all metal container.
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Old April 11, 2021, 01:41 PM   #7
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Phew, not an easy answer and I think both views have a right and a wrong.

Basically if the powder starts to turn, you need to get rid of it (burning seems to be the best way and its pretty cool).

What I do not know is how fast it can turn and when it does if it can up in flames on its own which would be a bad thing.

Accurate had some batch issues and they said it could (new stuff) and to separate it out.

I don't deliberately keep old powder but I do have some stuff back to the 70s I don't reload much or at all now.

So, there is a degree of risk and how to handle it is very personal take.
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Old April 11, 2021, 02:21 PM   #8
Nathan
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For my own benefit, I’ve started putting an opened date on powder containers. I may add a bought date....still, not sure I would toss it unless it developed a bad smell.

My powder lives in my basement at 62-69F and 40-60% rh. Seems pretty safe.
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Old April 11, 2021, 02:23 PM   #9
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Have been using 50 year old Red Dot powder shooting in trap leagues for the past 3 years. The only "spontaneous combustion" that takes place is when I pull the trigger.

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Old April 11, 2021, 03:08 PM   #10
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I have some 4895 that I think went bad. I believe it's from the early 90s when they were still using tin containers. It has been stored in my basement since that time. I should test it out or toss it in the garden.
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Old April 11, 2021, 04:26 PM   #11
Kevin Rohrer
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I keep it until I use it.
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Old April 11, 2021, 04:27 PM   #12
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I have powder that I bought last week, on back to powder that was originally sold in the '60s.
If it hasn't gone bad, it works fine.
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Old April 11, 2021, 05:22 PM   #13
FoghornLeghorn
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 101combatvet View Post
I have some 4895 that I think went bad.
What makes you think it went bad?
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Old April 11, 2021, 06:40 PM   #14
RC20
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I don't know if it can do other, but I have had both smell and rust colored flakes appear (or when I got some old powder)

At that point its out the door (or gets burned now)

The concern or issue is, it has not happened to me, therefore it can't or won't happen.

Well the folks on the coast that got hit with the tidal wave feel one way and the ones sitting up in the hills another.

Both are valid, put in the right perspective or context.

I hope it can be managed. I could be wrong and then if not, I may have a burned down house.
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Old April 11, 2021, 09:48 PM   #15
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In 2013, I found two canisters of powder I had forgotten about at my father's house. I purchased the powders (W231, W296) in 1987 or 88. That's 25 years.

I loaded them up and shot the ammo without any issues whatsoever.

P.S. With the propellants, were some 2K primers (CCI 500, 550, 300, 350). Yep, they all went bang without issue.
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Old April 12, 2021, 08:15 AM   #16
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You may as well ask how long a pet lives. Depends on the pet; depends on the powder. Some guys have successfully fired 30-06 dating back to the late 1920s. Others have had post-WWII loads from the late 1940s blow a Garand up (not easy to do). Many more have simply experienced a catsneeze load or a fizzle.

So, here's the problem: Powder starts going bad the day it is made. Heat makes molecules vibrate and those vibrations can randomly combine to pass the potential energy release threshold of an individual molecule, causing it to break down. Thus, there are individual molecules of nitrocellulose or nitroglycerin breaking down here and there all around the powder mass. The powder mass has an astronomical number of molecules, so this constant random breakdown is not enough to appreciably weaken the powder by itself. Not in several human lifetimes, anyway. What causes significant weakening is the acid produced by that breakdown is also able to break other molecules down whose acid products, in turn, make still other molecules break down and so on in a kind snowball effect. As a result, pure nitrocellulose and nitroglycerin don't age well. So what the powder maker does to prevent that is to include a chemical called a stabilizer that neutralizes the acid byproducts as soon as they appear, thus preventing them from damaging other molecules. The stabilizing neutralizer is commonly diphenylamine, but calcium carbonate and other ingredients have been used. And this works great until the stabilizer is used up. At that point, the breakdown accelerates.

So, the age of the powder, as it is associated with consumption of the stabilizer is what makes powder go bad. The temperature at which the powder is stored has a big effect. Single lots of single-base powders can be stored at root cellar temperatures for a very long time. The military puts a 45-year stockpile limit on it. Double-base powders go more quickly, and 20-years is a military stockpile number for them. And this is in basement temperatures (bunkers sunk into the ground). If you heat powder, the breakdown follows the Ahrenius function, more or less, doubling the breakdown rate about every 10°C (18°F) or so. As a result, in tests intended to cause a powder to break down, 140° will do it to spherical powders in about a year and a half.

But just when you think all will be well if you keep your powder cool, there's a catch (isn't there always). When powders come off the production line (bulk grade) they are tested for burn rate because this is something very difficult to control exactly in an affordable process. For the powders made for the handloading market (canister grade), because handloaders don't typically have pressure measuring gear and depend on recipes in load data books to get in the correct pressure range, the burn rate has to be controlled more tightly than the powder manufacturing process can achieve. To solve this, when a bulk lot doesn't fall within the tolerance that is safe to use with published load data, it is blended with held-back previous lots that are either faster or slower burning (as needed) to adjust the overall burn rate of the new lot. Now how long do you suppose that powder will last? It depends on how much stabilizer was left in the held-back lots. In other words, the oldest powder in the blend generally determines the remaining life expectancy. How old is that? How do you know? You don't. This is why you need to check powder every time you use it.

In general:

Check the smell. If it smells like nitric acid instead of the normal ethyl ether solvent smell, it is going bad. Nitric acid has an acrid smell, like vinegar and muriatic acid do, but, just as those two have dissimilar smells, so, too is nitric acid's scent unique, and "acrid" is about the only characteristic those acid scents all have in common. But you'll notice it is different from normal powder smell right away, and if you compare the smell to that of other powders you have, you'll know right away that it is wrong.

Another symptom that can develop is the powder looks oily and is clumping together. It should look dry and flow well when you pour it.

Another symptom you can have is a dry appearing powder, but with red dust mixed with it. Pour some out on a sheet of white paper and jostle it around a little and then pour it back into the container. If red dust is left behind on the paper, you have a problem.

Finally, own a chronograph and keep a notebook. If your best load from a lot of powder suddenly changes velocity when you've changed nothing else, including the test conditions, that can be a warning sign. Usually, the velocity goes down, but occasionally a powder formulation (often spherical) will start to raise pressure by destroying its deterrent coatings faster than the underlying powder is destroyed, giving the remaining powder a faster burn rate, so it makes very high peak pressure. That is what can damage a gun.
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Old April 12, 2021, 05:38 PM   #17
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Wow. Unclenick, that was the most cogent explanation of powder storage/manufacturing issues/factors I've ever read.


Grandpa and dad always said to smell powder before using it. If it passes the smell test, all is good...likely...

I only recently used up the last of a 160lb keg of 1950s military powder given to me about 8 years ago. It was open when given to me, but it was basically full. The guy who gave it to me was in his 80s, and said it was given to him in the 60s by a retired marine who was 'some kind of hotshot with those wwII rifles"... no idea who it was, but 48 grains of that powder, behind a 168g pill was far more accurate than I ever was with it...

Smell it, then send it
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Old April 12, 2021, 05:53 PM   #18
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Another symptom that can develop is the powder looks oily and is clumping together. It should look dry and flow well when you pour it.
Every canister of Lil Gun I have had is a little oily and clumps.

Otherwise, generally accurate advice from Unclenick.
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Old April 12, 2021, 05:54 PM   #19
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Longest I have had powder is a couple years. But I would have no issues using powder that was 10-20 years old or older if I needed to. Would just work up the load from start again to make sure it was performing properly.

On a side note. I use a label maker and put the purchase date And date opened on all my cans of powder. This way I use the open containers and oldest powder first. You could use silver or bronze sharpie, or a sticker with a pen. The label maker is just easy to read and convenient for me.
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Old April 12, 2021, 06:41 PM   #20
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All of my rifle powder is in metal Dupont IMR cans; works just fine.
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Old April 12, 2021, 07:11 PM   #21
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Just go by the " USE BY" date on the container ...

I'm only joking !
Powder is good , reguardless of the date purchased , if it does not contain "red dust " and if it has a smell that is not acrid or acidic , irrating to the nose .
Go look and smell some of your opened powders so you can tell good powder and thus tell when / if they start to "go bad" .
Stored properly powder can last for decades ... I'm using some Alcan #5 from the 1970's and it's just fine . Storage conditions are more important than simply age .
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Old April 12, 2021, 07:31 PM   #22
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I'm using some Alcan #5 from the 1970's and it's just fine .
Thanks for reminding me gwpercle, about my 70's vintage AL-5. Still propelling lead bullets just like it should.

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Old April 13, 2021, 10:36 AM   #23
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Originally Posted by MarkCO
Every canister of Lil Gun I have had is a little oily and clumps.
Watch out for that stuff. Just clumpy doesn't necessarily mean anything, as powder sitting with enough weight to press the grains hard against each other can make loosely bound clumps. Hodgdon tells me shaking the powder should break those right up. It's the combination of clumpy with oily that is not a good sign and if the clumps stick together with some determination, that powder's got issues. I called Hodgdon to double-check, and they say they've never seen Li'l Gun look oily. They immediately asked what the powder storage conditions were. Of course, none of us know what happened to it between the factory and ourselves, so there's no way to give a comprehensive reply. We only know we've tried to follow the rules.

The oily, clumpy powder I had experience with was in loaded 308 ammo made on contract by S&B in 1982. Upon pulling the bullet, that ammo's powder had to be removed from the case with toothpicks. Tapping the case did not move it. When most of it was out, I found the remaining bits stuck to the brass, too. A decade later (I kept some of the stuff out of curiosity), a number of the cases had corrosion spots that turned out to go all the way through to the inside.

That ammo was made in the Iron Curtain days, and I've been told Iron Curtain powders are untrustworthy. S&B told me all their records from those days are on paper in a warehouse and that they don't have a practical way to search them, so they couldn't say what I had. At the time I got that ammo (1992), about every 20th round in the bunch sounded different and a couple of them wouldn't function my M1A. About a month after shooting it, despite normal cleaning, the bore was coated in fine rust. I still don't know if that was because of corrosive primers (it was sold as non-corrosive) or because nitric or nitrous acid radicals in the powder caused it. I've been told S&B didn't catalog any corrosive primers from at least the 1970s. On the other hand, S&B said they also custom-loaded to client specifications if the order quantity was large enough, though I don't know why someone would order corrosive primers. But just in case the acid explanation is right (nitric acid fumes from a few drops in a watch glass was how the old steam cabinets for rust bluing started uniformly fine surface rust resembling what I had in the M1A barrel), I would clean anything you shoot that stuff in pretty well. Maybe with a boiling water rinse.
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Old April 13, 2021, 10:59 AM   #24
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Thanks for reminding me gwpercle, about my 70's vintage AL-5. Still propelling lead bullets just like it should.
AL-8 on this end, forget what I got it for. Lots left! Cool container.
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Old April 13, 2021, 11:46 AM   #25
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Related to "how long do you keep": I have about a 1/2 pound of Semi-Smokeless powder with recipes on the can for cartridges like .40-60 (NOT using 60 grains).
At this point a collectors item more than intent to shoot though.
The can came from my grandfather an may be over 100 years old at this point. Couldn't find much documentation about it the few times I looked.
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