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Thread: Stupid question about an old powder

  1. #1

    Stupid question about an old powder

    So as I recall Dupont stopped making gunpowder about the end of the Vietnam war. What I'm wondering is if there is a way to identify a modern equivalent for the old Dupont Schuetzen powder? Any thoughts?

  2. #2
    So I wasn't clear here. I wasn't talking about the new Schuetzen black powder, I'm talking about the "OLD" Scheutzen black powder replacement from the early 1900's - like the one below.
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  3. #3
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    Scheutzen powder of that vintage was a “bulk” smokeless powder that, for certain specific cartridges, could be loaded bulk-for-bulk using the same scoops (or powder measures at the same settings) as black powder.

    It was made by taking nitrated cotton linters and boiling them in a vessel of water with a layer of organic solvent (amyl acetate, IIRC) on the bottom. The nitrocellulose was only slightly soluble in the solvent, so the linters would dissolve and then precipitate out into soft, fluffy yellow granules. When the process was complete, the product would be separated, dried and screened for whatever use it was destined for.

    Since it was a slow process, and needed monitoring, it was expensive. The soft granules could break into smaller particles upon handling, so if your ammo or reloads were rattling around in the boot of a Model T for a time, you might encounter faster burn rates and dangerous pressures when you got around to shooting it up. It was, however, much safer to use as a propellant than the nitrated cotton, which would run up to a detonation if ignited by a primer.

    Modern propellants are made more efficiently by “colloiding” the nitrocellulose completely in an alcohol/ether mixture. The solvents are evaporated and recovered and the nitrocellulose colloid is extruded and cut into the flakes and rods we see, or processed into tiny balls by another process. This results in what are called “dense” powders, that are hard and don’t break down.

    The only “bulk” powders I’ve ever played around with are DuPont Bulk Shotgun Smokeless and #80. (Thought I’d scored a full can of DuPont #1 Rifle Smokeless once, but got it home to find the contents were Pyrodex RS .) I’ve screened the former into coarse and fine distributions, as explained by N. H. Roberts, and have heeded Elmer Keith’s and Phil Sharpe’s cautions in using the latter. In the former case, even screened, the stuff is extremely “twitchy,” and subject to high pressures even with recommended loads. Haven’t had much trouble that way with the latter (in recommended loadings), and I love the smell of the smoke.

    So, anyway, there is nothing on the modern scene that is the equivalent of Scheutzen, or any of the old “bulk” powders. SR-4759, not as dense as most “dense” powders, but still “dense,” was the modern replacement, and I guess 5744 and Buffalo Whatever are the successors to that late, lamented offering.

    Despite what Pope, Donaldson, Roberts and all the ODGs said about it being the “equivalent” of the old bulk rifle powders, I found the screened Bulk Shotgun to be no great shakes accuracy-wise, and could easily beat it in cast boolit loadings with 4759, without the finicky load development needed for each screened batch and the stuck shells I occasionally got even so. (#80 is another story. Some loads with that stuff are pretty impressive.)

    Sharpe’s handloading compendium has the story on these powders as of 1939 or so, if you’re interested in the details.

  4. #4
    Thanks Bent

    Just been reading old documents that talked about a load of 9 grains of Schuetzen smokeless with a 2 grain 4f kicker charge. Some remarkable targets fired but I guess history is history . . . Thanks for the education.

  5. #5
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    SJ, you found one of the unusual, reverse duplex loads. Most of the time a small charge of a relatively fast burning smokeless powder would be placed in the base of the case then the rest filled with black. The hot charge is to make the main part ignite faster and burn more consistently. Many "experts" will tell you that "mixing powders" should never be done and is dangerous! Ah, youth!

    Froggie
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  6. #6
    Thanks Froggie - I'm always interested in the "old ways" I can't tell you how many people have told me I'm going to blow up my gun when I stick the bullet in first, followed be the charged shell. I just thought it might be interesting to try the old duplex load.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bent Ramrod View Post
    Scheutzen powder of that vintage was a “bulk” smokeless powder that, for certain specific cartridges, could be loaded bulk-for-bulk using the same scoops (or powder measures at the same settings) as black powder.

    It was made by taking nitrated cotton linters and boiling them in a vessel of water with a layer of organic solvent (amyl acetate, IIRC) on the bottom. The nitrocellulose was only slightly soluble in the solvent, so the linters would dissolve and then precipitate out into soft, fluffy yellow granules. When the process was complete, the product would be separated, dried and screened for whatever use it was destined for.

    Since it was a slow process, and needed monitoring, it was expensive. The soft granules could break into smaller particles upon handling, so if your ammo or reloads were rattling around in the boot of a Model T for a time, you might encounter faster burn rates and dangerous pressures when you got around to shooting it up. It was, however, much safer to use as a propellant than the nitrated cotton, which would run up to a detonation if ignited by a primer.

    Modern propellants are made more efficiently by “colloiding” the nitrocellulose completely in an alcohol/ether mixture. The solvents are evaporated and recovered and the nitrocellulose colloid is extruded and cut into the flakes and rods we see, or processed into tiny balls by another process. This results in what are called “dense” powders, that are hard and don’t break down.

    The only “bulk” powders I’ve ever played around with are DuPont Bulk Shotgun Smokeless and #80. (Thought I’d scored a full can of DuPont #1 Rifle Smokeless once, but got it home to find the contents were Pyrodex RS .) I’ve screened the former into coarse and fine distributions, as explained by N. H. Roberts, and have heeded Elmer Keith’s and Phil Sharpe’s cautions in using the latter. In the former case, even screened, the stuff is extremely “twitchy,” and subject to high pressures even with recommended loads. Haven’t had much trouble that way with the latter (in recommended loadings), and I love the smell of the smoke.

    So, anyway, there is nothing on the modern scene that is the equivalent of Scheutzen, or any of the old “bulk” powders. SR-4759, not as dense as most “dense” powders, but still “dense,” was the modern replacement, and I guess 5744 and Buffalo Whatever are the successors to that late, lamented offering.

    Despite what Pope, Donaldson, Roberts and all the ODGs said about it being the “equivalent” of the old bulk rifle powders, I found the screened Bulk Shotgun to be no great shakes accuracy-wise, and could easily beat it in cast boolit loadings with 4759, without the finicky load development needed for each screened batch and the stuck shells I occasionally got even so. (#80 is another story. Some loads with that stuff are pretty impressive.)

    Sharpe’s handloading compendium has the story on these powders as of 1939 or so, if you’re interested in the details.
    Thanks for the very detailed post. It seems like this type of detailed posts are getting less frequent here. I enjoy learning and I learned a lot from this one. Thanks again.
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  8. #8
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    Bent RR


    Thanks for supplying that information.
    Nice to get an educational information on powder/loading not directly related to some case/boolit/bullet..1
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  9. #9
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    You’re all very welcome; I’m glad to contribute where I can. And, like that squire in The Seventh Seal, “I love to give good advice,” useful or no.

    I think Sharpe’s book also goes into the priming charge technique. Cartridge primers were reliable enough by the end of the black powder era so that the large amounts of fulminate that helped the balky early examples go off regardless had been minimized. Then along came smokeless powders, which were found to be hard to ignite with these “mild” black powder primers.

    Until the ammo companies developed a “stronger” smokeless primer, the early smokeless shooters would put a few grains of black next to the primer to get the fire lit reliably. Sort of like the large naval guns that require a BP “igniter” in addition to the primer to get all those bags of powder lit off efficiently.

    Now, of course, the black powder cartridge shooters of today scramble to find the “mildest” of the “strong” smokeless primers (all that are offered these days) in order to give the gentlest initiation to the black powder ammunition they load for target shooting. Various bench rest primers, Remington 9-1/2s, Match Pistol primers and primer wads (cutout paper in the primer pocket or a disc of paper dropped into the case ahead of the powder) are variously recommended for the mildest ignition. Since the boolits are seated with a minimum of neck tension, it is theorized that the primer itself can push the boolit various distances into the leade before the powder charge is consumed, possibly causing variations in trajectory.

    A friend in the early days of BPCR Silhouette garnered himself a garage full of primers by attending the Silhouette matches at Bishop CA. “What kinda primers you using?” would be the question from one of the more successful competitors. “CCI Magnum Rifle, like Wolf recommended,” the friend replied. “Whatta ya you using that crap for?” the expert shooter would squawk. “The notion that mag primers are needed was debunked long ago. I got most of a case of those and don’t even touch them now. The primer to use is Winchester Large Rifle.”

    “How much would you want for those useless magnum primers?” The friend would ask. “Gimme $25; I dowanna have to stumble over them looking for components I can actually use,” would be the reply. Deal.

    Next match, same primer question from another competitor. “Winchester Large Rifle,” The friend replied. “Wott?” The outraged reply. “Nobody uses that junk! If you ever hope to hit these animals, you need CCI Bench Rest.” “Do you have any other primers you want to get rid of?” The friend would venture. “Yeah; I’ve tried ‘em all; if you really want to punish yourself you can have all the broken sleeves for $100.” Deal.

    And so it would go; match after match. Every time he said what primer he used, somebody would tell him he was wrong, and he’d make an offer for any “useless” primers the competitive expert du jour wanted gone. The friend shot a rebuilt Sile Sharps for the “fun” aspect, and never won a match. But there’s no doubt who won the primer wars. He’s got enough, at fire-sale discounts, to outlast any primer famine.

    I started my own BPCR shooting with a Mason jar full of FA-42 corrosive Government primers that I got for $5 at a gun show. With primer wads, they seemed to shoot as well as anything else, and the black powder cleanup took care of the “corrosive” aspect with no problem. Wish I could find more, at that price, of course.

    Apologies for the thread drift...As Jack O’Connor noted, “The temptation is to hold forth.”

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Green Frog View Post
    SJ, you found one of the unusual, reverse duplex loads. Most of the time a small charge of a relatively fast burning smokeless powder would be placed in the base of the case then the rest filled with black. The hot charge is to make the main part ignite faster and burn more consistently. Many "experts" will tell you that "mixing powders" should never be done and is dangerous! Ah, youth!

    Froggie
    I've done it with 4759 in 45-70 and .357 magnum. Paul Matthews included the math in one of his books and claimed it would greatly reduce fouling, so the .357 was the guinea pig (why burn a big case full when you can get results from a small case?). The Marlin liked it! And it worked just as well in the 45-70, but the loading process was a little tedious.
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Abbreviations used in Reloading

BP Bronze Point IMR Improved Military Rifle PTD Pointed
BR Bench Rest M Magnum RN Round Nose
BT Boat Tail PL Power-Lokt SP Soft Point
C Compressed Charge PR Primer SPCL Soft Point "Core-Lokt"
HP Hollow Point PSPCL Pointed Soft Point "Core Lokt" C.O.L. Cartridge Overall Length
PSP Pointed Soft Point Spz Spitzer Point SBT Spitzer Boat Tail
LRN Lead Round Nose LWC Lead Wad Cutter LSWC Lead Semi Wad Cutter
GC Gas Check