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Thread: Black powder quality, then and now?

  1. #1
    Boolit Master
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    Black powder quality, then and now?

    I have read in several places that the pinnacle of black powder development took place in the mid to late 19th century, which makes a great deal of sense. I have also read that today's black powder doesn't compare in quality...power...to that powder. There are reasons for this, cost, it's more dangerous to go that extra mile and there's no demand for that ultra-high quality. That does indeed make sense. However, since I can't actually compare black powder as used by the British in 1853 to today's Swiss 2F I have no way of knowing. I do know that Swiss does perform better than other brands of powder I've used, so not all black powder is created equal.

    What do you think? Is today's best black powder, Swiss? As good, as powerful, as the best black powder used by the British in 1853?
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  2. #2
    Boolit Buddy
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    I find that hard to believe. Products today have QC steps that were beyond the existence of technology 100 years ago. When the Wright Brothers wanted a 8 hp engine that weighed less than 200 pounds, they were told that such a thing was impossible. Theirs was 189 pounds and made nearly 12. The point being: what is possible tomorrow might be unfathomable today.

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    Anything is possible but when old supplies of BP that are compared to todays BP that has not proved to true. As to consistency I would be willing to bet todays BP are better. The claim that I often read is that the best of the old BP's had softer fouling that allowed for less fouling issues.
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    Quote Originally Posted by downzero View Post
    I find that hard to believe. Products today have QC steps that were beyond the existence of technology 100 years ago. When the Wright Brothers wanted a 8 hp engine that weighed less than 200 pounds, they were told that such a thing was impossible. Theirs was 189 pounds and made nearly 12. The point being: what is possible tomorrow might be unfathomable today.
    ????? The ingredients and the processing machinery have not changed (in any meaningful way) over that 150 years, at the same time labour costs have increased many times over - back then there was a far greater resource of quality timber for charcoal and peoples life depended on the result when they pulled the trigger (we are all part time hobbyists by comparison) all good reasons why the old powder could have been better ----we might achieve comparable velocities with Swiss in cartridge loads, I doubt (bet you wont) you will do it with wano, goex just went down the toilet. I see no good reason why the olde timey blackpowder was not at least equal to our best. Science took us to smokeless not better black. ?

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    Boolit Grand Master



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    Here's an interesting read on the modern techniques. http://pyrotechnic.narod.ru/Black_Powder.pdf
    2nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. - "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

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    It was (and is) all about the charcoal. What wood it was made from and the specific charcoal making process determined the softness of the fired residue. A powder that burned "moist" was the most desirable - all other things being equal.

    An important issue to bear in mind is that children were used in the manufacturing process in Europe for the powder and ammunition. Child labor was not only cheap or "free" if the children were from work houses, but they were easily replaced if an unfortunate accident were to happen and 30 "boys" were killed as a result.

    Aggressive internet searching will yield a wealth of information regarding the composition of 19th century powders as well as their comparisons and specific uses by both military and civil users (hunters). It is a very interesting topic and one will learn that today's limited sources of powders in no way compare to the quality of the apex powders in the latter half of the 19th century. The term quality in this context is referring to their burning properties and the consistency of the burned residue.
    Last edited by Tar Heel; 10-14-2021 at 05:26 AM.
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    Boolit Grand Master Don McDowell's Avatar
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    It is also good to be mindful of there were several different types of powder from all the manufacturers, back in the day. So making any useful comparisons between what was available then and what is available today, is mostly an exercise is burning bandwidth..
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    Seems like John Boy did some testing on this very subject.

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    Boolit Grand Master

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    Most powder today is coated in the tumbling process ant tumbling is the most dangerous part. The old powders were not coated but tumbled much longer. Ned Roberts said that Curtis and Harvey powder allowed him to shoot 125 shots from his 44-40 without cleaning and the last shot as accurate as the first. To me that says it all about the quality of modern powders. I have shot a bunch of old 45-70 rounds from 1879 to 1884 and if the bullets are pulled and re lubed with good lube they do shoot with less fouling than modern powder.

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    Boolit Grand Master Don McDowell's Avatar
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    We've all read about how C&H was so good, but in Perry's book the equipment list and scores show that at the last Creedmoor match most were shooting Lafflin and Rand, and the only one shooting C&H was at the bottom of the heap.
    O.P. Hanna's book says they carried two rifles on the buffalo hunt, shot the first one until the shots started going wild, dropped it and went to work with the second until the herd was gone.
    OE and Swiss come about as close to being what the finer quality powders of the end of the blackpowder era were as we can get.
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  11. #11
    Boolit Bub
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    For me Wano P shot just as tighter groups as Swiss 1.5 in my 40/65 Roller, Have now switched to 2207 ,shoots even better groups @ 100 yds and no cleaning issues.Bp has just got too expensive here in A U.$140 a KG .for Swiss. Cheers Mal in au.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Hahndorf1874 View Post
    Bp has just got too expensive here in A U.$140 a KG .for Swiss.
    For the yanks, that's $47/lb. USD
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  13. #13
    Boolit Grand Master

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    One area I see as improved is consistency. While the process is the same and basic equipment to make is the same. The QC and measuring mixing equipment are much more accurate than back then, making for a better product.

    The charcoal making would be a example. Temp controls today are a few degrees plus or minus. Furnaces atmospheres are much better controlled.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Don McDowell View Post
    It is also good to be mindful of there were several different types of powder from all the manufacturers, back in the day. So making any useful comparisons between what was available then and what is available today, is mostly an exercise is burning bandwidth..
    That's as true as anything else. Back 'in the day' there were over 100 manufacturers, quality and performance were all over the map but the result was a lot more choices between what you liked and what you could afford.
    There's a pretty good thread somewhere about BP then vs now.
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    Boolit Master Savvy Jack's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AbitNutz View Post
    What do you think? Is today's best black powder, Swiss? As good, as powerful, as the best black powder used by the British in 1853?
    I can't say if any powder today is better than the powders of yesteryear. What I can say is that Swiss black powder has given me the best original performances in the old black powder cartridges. All I can do is share my data and let ya'll come to your own conclusions.

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    *Black Powder - Original Velocities 1873-1877, Early Black Powder loads were recorded to be 1,325fps. Both John Kort and I have replicated these velocities with Black Powder. John achieved great accuracy but all I did was test for Pressures and Velocity. 40gr Goex FFFg gave me 1,356fps with a 427098 when using original early pre-1880's Unheadstamed cases at an interesting 12,648psi. 40gr Swiss FFg proved better at 1,373fps with the 427098 using the same cases at 14,285psi. Both test results recorded velocities very close to original recorded velocities.

    **Black Powder - Original Velocities 1886-1904, Black powder loads of this time frame show a lower velocity of 1,245fps. My test loads using various manufactured cases from this time period with the above powders recorded from 1,235fps to 1,276fps with pressures in the 12,500psi area, again recording velocities very close to original recordings.

    ***Black Powder - Original Velocities Today, Using the above black powder loads in modern cases resulted in mid 1,250fps range with mild chamber pressures of only 8,500psi to 10,000psi. Powder compression is a must with both original and modern brass. H2O measurements of the cases resulted in different overall volumes as expected. Early Semi-balloon head cases yielded more volume than later semi-balloon head cases and of course more than modern cases. Replicated powder compression was between .17" - .21" respectively between the older cases. Modern black powder loads using modern components more replicate the 1886-1904 black powder loadings with components of that era. However, trying to replicate the powder compression can be problematic. Most people load even less powder, maybe 36gr and no powder compression, which will more than likely result in even less velocity and pressures.

  16. #16
    Boolit Master Savvy Jack's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by indian joe View Post
    Bryan
    my second batch of willow homemade circa 2016
    39 grains FFFg = 1339 FPS with a 200grain LEE
    40 Grains FFFg = 1355 FPS same boolit
    so Proly sitting about halfway tween Goex and Swiss ?

    I have cracked 1500FPS in my 45/75 with a 330grain boolit - more careful loading in that one has got me a couple of ten shot strings with ES of 7 FPS and 9 FPS ---- was a pretty happy camper at that point. Still not getting factory density but closer and seems to stand compression without losing accuracy.
    The 40 grain load in a 44/40 (modern cases) is heavy compression (by my measure) with any powder! (Swiss less so they tell me but I have never shot it)
    Not necessarily

    If you are using modern cases, then it could be burning "hotter", for a lack of a better word, than the original. Look at my chart again, and look for the components used at those velocities as well as the pressures created. Also keep in mind I was using a 20" barrel, so those velocities could be increased accordingly for a 24" barrel. Be on the look-out for items I may have missed.
    Last edited by Savvy Jack; 10-16-2021 at 11:38 AM.

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    Boolit Master Lead pot's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KCSO View Post
    Most powder today is coated in the tumbling process ant tumbling is the most dangerous part. The old powders were not coated but tumbled much longer. Ned Roberts said that Curtis and Harvey powder allowed him to shoot 125 shots from his 44-40 without cleaning and the last shot as accurate as the first. To me that says it all about the quality of modern powders. I have shot a bunch of old 45-70 rounds from 1879 to 1884 and if the bullets are pulled and re lubed with good lube they do shoot with less fouling than modern powder.
    KCSO.

    Shooting without cleaning between shots fired can be done with now days powder also. It's not just the quality of the powder but mostly the way you load the shell so you can do this.

    That target was shot at 200 yards with PP bullets when I was forming the cases in my new Shiloh .44-2.6/.44-100 chamber. This chamber was cut using my reamer from a chamber cast of an original rifle used at the 1870's Creedmoor matches and this rifle was in mint conditions.
    When I form brass I use old powder that was spilled or partial cans of left overs that were used for leftover load tests that proved not being the best for the developments. There was Goex of several types as well as Schuetzen, KIK, Diamond back and others 1F to 3F that I put in a gallon glass pickle jar, well blended it in that jar and save for forming cases.
    What you see on that target was a 100 shot session forming the reworked brass and only 4 maybe 5 shots went out of a 4" group at 200 yards I shot without cleaning once start to finish.

    It's not so much the quality of the powder but how you load the shells and how much time you spend learning how to load the black powder shells and a proper chamber to shoot these shells

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  18. #18
    Boolit Master Savvy Jack's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lead pot View Post
    KCSO.

    Shooting without cleaning between shots fired can be done with now days powder also. It's not just the quality of the powder but mostly the way you load the shell so you can do this.

    That target was shot at 200 yards with PP bullets when I was forming the cases in my new Shiloh .44-2.6/.44-100 chamber. This chamber was cut using my reamer from a chamber cast of an original rifle used at the 1870's Creedmoor matches and this rifle was in mint conditions.
    When I form brass I use old powder that was spilled or partial cans of left overs that were used for leftover load tests that proved not being the best for the developments. There was Goex of several types as well as Schuetzen, KIK, Diamond back and others 1F to 3F that I put in a gallon glass pickle jar, well blended it in that jar and save for forming cases.
    What you see on that target was a 100 shot session forming the reworked brass and only 4 maybe 5 shots went out of a 4" group at 200 yards I shot without cleaning once start to finish.

    It's not so much the quality of the powder but how you load the shells and how much time you spend learning how to load the black powder shells and a proper chamber to shoot these shells

    Click image for larger version. 

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    I seriously thought about purchasing the 44-40 Baby Sharps when they first came out but I backed out not trusting the quality. I just never could find anyone who had already purchased and experienced one. I disagree with the author calling the 44-40 a pistol round but this article pushed me away from the rifle.
    https://www.americanhunter.org/artic...arps-44-40-win
    Last edited by Savvy Jack; 10-16-2021 at 11:46 AM.

  19. #19
    Boolit Master Lead pot's Avatar
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    Jack,

    I had no idea there was such rifle out there. It sure looks like it would be a fun shooter for the bowling pins and let the round grand kids learn to shoot these fine single shot shooters.

    What made the .44-40 so popular was because it was used for the revolver and rifle making it popular that the shells in the pistol belt would fit both revolver and rifles.

  20. #20
    Boolit Grand Master Don McDowell's Avatar
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    Kurt think lo wall 44 wcf


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