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Old September 4, 2001, 10:36 PM   #1
Joe Portale
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Join Date: June 8, 1999
Location: Tucson, Arizona Territory
Posts: 715
ball versus stick powders

Okay fellow accuracy freaks, here's one for some discussions. Is it me or does stick powder giver more consistant results than ball?

Tested calibers

.308W, 30.06 and .223. The .308 was fired in a bolt gun, the '06 Garand and the .223 AR15.

30 rounds out of each gun. All loads were weighed by hand and the bullet seating and crimp was close to constant as humanly possible. No chrony data. (My chrony got shot shot a little while ago, but that is a different story.)

The report of the stick powders seemed to be consistant. I could "hear" a sight difference in several of the ball powder rounds. The recoil on my shoulder seemed about that same no matter which powder I used. The groups were a bit tighter with the stick powder.

Opinions? Comments?
Joe Portale
Tucson, Arizona Territory

"Even now in heaven there are angles carrying savage weapons".
- St Paul
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Old September 5, 2001, 06:56 AM   #2
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Ball has it's advantages.

It meters better through a measure. It (generally) burns at a lower temperature which extends barrel life. It is more stable, giving it a (theoretically) longer shelf life. All these traits endeared it to the military.

On the other hand, Ball powder is generally less flexable than extruded powder. This makes stick powder more forgiving, and easier to develop an accurate round. But, Stick powder generally burns hotter (especially those with high nitro-glycerin content), reducing barrel life, and it does not have as long a shelf life.

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Old September 7, 2001, 11:30 PM   #3
Join Date: June 16, 2001
Location: Sunny Socal
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I agree with pampers about the burn temp.

The major difference between stick and ball powders seems to be their sensitivity to temperature. I haven't noticed any lack of consistency in velocity in either powder. I have noticed increased velocity and pressure during the summer with the ball powders. Bullets from a "winter" load were flying apart in the summer heat a while back.

A lot of the manuals recommend a magnum primer for the ball powders. Had a vertical group stringing problem a while back with a 308 and a ball powder. Switched to magnum primers and it solved the problem. The manuals that I've looked at say that the ball powders are a bit harder to ignite consistently due to the lack of space between the balls. ;-) I'm NOT looking down! Sorry...

Switched to Varget (a stick powder) for the accuracy loads. It's pretty impressive stuff. I just wish that it metered as smoothly as a ball powder. It does seem to be pretty consistent out of the powder drop. Variance in charge weight is usually less than 0.2 grains. Groups are consistently sub-MOA. So I'm happy.

Hope this helps!

Stay safe,

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Old September 8, 2001, 07:24 AM   #4
Bud Helms
Join Date: December 31, 1999
Location: Middle Georgia
Posts: 13,155
Yep, I concur with the seasonal (ambient temp) effects on ball powder.

A few years back I loaded some .30-'06 180 gr Nosler Partitions in front of some W760 (52.x grs, as I recall). 'Clocked about 2780 fps out of a 24 in barrel Sako. When the guy got to Colorado, he stopped at a commercial range to check zero after the drive out, and they were stringing vertically. He went and got some Federal Premiums. They shot fine and he hunted with them instead.

I can understand the impact point moving, but the stringing confused me for a while. Then I had a long range session with the guy and saw that he would get a different position and grab the rifle a different way each time he'd shoot. He was all over the paper. The problem in the cold could also have been aggravated by carrying the rounds in the heated vehicle and then taking them out and shooting them while they were experiencing a BIG thermal change. 65 degree vehicle compartment to -15 degrees outside. That could do it.

They only reference I could find in any reloading manuals to the problem was a fairly casual recommendation that "the reloader might want to try magnum primers with ball powders under some circumstances" (my paraphrased quotes).

I've also heard opinions on the effects of ball powder scooting through the throat and leade, slightly increasing the rate of erosion over stick powders. Since, with the slower burners (of either type), there is a slug of powder that gets into the barrel and burns there, there could be something to it. Whether it would be worse than the extruded powders and by how much is a subject on which I have not seen data. might be a place to ask. One thing I have learned is that ball powders don't compress worth a darn. duh!

All that said, I love the way ball powder meters and I use it most of the time.
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Old September 8, 2001, 09:50 AM   #5
Joe Portale
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Join Date: June 8, 1999
Location: Tucson, Arizona Territory
Posts: 715
Just as a follow up on this. For comparison purposes below is a small chart of the results between two powders, a ball (2520) and stick (4895). The results would make anyone pretty happy. The actual groups are pretty impressive for both powders. The target was set to 100 yards (+ or - a couple of yards), the rifle was set on sand bags and yours truely was kept out of the equation as much as possible.

The rifle is one of my own making, a VZ BRNO reciever worked over, Timney trigger group, 26" Adams and Bennet bull barrel in a standard Fajen wooden stock. Optics is a Simmons White Tail 3-9X40 scope. The groups are from a 3 shot group to the X ring. The caliber in .243 WInchester, using a 70 grain Sierra HPBT Match King.

AA 2520

Charge Group

1. 36.5 7/16"
2. 37 7/16
3. 37.5 1/2"
4. 38 1/2
5. 38.5 1/2
6. 39 1/2
7. 39.5 3/4
8. 40 7/8
9. 40.5 7/8
10. 41 1"

IMR 4895

Charge Group

1. 37.5 1"
2. 38 1"
3. 38.5 5/8
4. 39 5/8
5. 39.5 7/16
6. 40 5/16
7. 40.5 3/16
8. 41 3/4
9 41.5 3/4
10. 42 1"

Although the smaller group was had with the 4895, changes in air temp, heating of the barrel and shooter fatigue could not be factored in. Considering that any group holes under 7/16 were touching, it seems like the difference between ball and stick in this case is moot. But it was sure fun trying this out.
Joe Portale
Tucson, Arizona Territory

"Even now in heaven there are angles carrying savage weapons".
- St Paul
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