Friday, March 17, 2006

Surplus 4895

We reload ammo to save money, or at least that is what we tell ourselves. It is a canard in the industry that reloading saves money, and while that is true, it becomes a hobby in itself, the crafting of fine ammunition that you just can't find anywhere else. An entire industry has built itself around reloading, with names such as RCBS, Lee, and Lyman leading the way for tools and equipment so that we can assemble ammunition.

Component manufacturers are doing okay, too. There are a lot of folks like me who choose to assemble their own ammo, and the manufacturers who make powder are few and far between. Gunpowder manufactory is a dangerous business, and making small lots of powder for reloaders is problematic. The distribution and marketing drives prices up, and when powder prices go up, so does the cost of a single reloaded cartridge. The government buys powder regularly, to manufacture ammunition for our Armed Services. They buy powder in huge lots, from the same manufacturers that sell to reloaders, but they buy such vast quantities that the price per pound is significantly lower than what I can buy it for in the retail market.

Gunpowder is made in large lots. It is tested for burn rate and pressure. Reloaders know that burn rate and pressure on a particular powder can vary by as much as 15% from lot to lot, and we adjust our practices to remain safe. Buying powder of one lot number is one of our practices. A pound of rifle powder might make 300 individual cartridges, but when that pound is gone you have to buy more powder. If that lot number is different, you have to work up your loads again to make sure that it is safe and accurate.

Neophyte reloaders are well served by retail powder. I have a fair stock of powder that I use regularly, all from established manufacturers, and all purchased over the counter from my local retailer. I continue to use standard powder, and will for the continuing future.

When you have been reloading for a number of years, you learn that there is surplus powder on the market. Powder that the government or the large outfits that manufacture for the government have purchased and is now finding its way to the market as surplus. If a single pound of powder can make 300 cartridges, then 8 pounds of powder can make 2400 cartridges. An 8 pound jug of surplus powder is all in the same lot, so it will remain the same over its useful shelf life, which stretches across decades when properly stored.

One problem with surplus powder is that it might be labeled differently than retail powder. The government wants particlar things from its gunpowder, and each type is manufactured differently, so powder that is suitable for one application might not be suitable for another. The careful reloader starts his loads in the moderate range of power and slowly works up until he finds a load that suits his needs. Most of the ammunition I load is in this moderate range. Surplus powder is a caveat emptor commodity. The buyer should beware that he is buying something that is different from other powders on the market. It was manufactured for a particular purpose.

Hodgdon makes a powder it calls H4895. IMR makes a powder that it calls IMR4895. They are similar powders but differ in burn rate. They are suitable for military rifle cartridges such as the .308 and .30-06.

Hodgdon owns IMR and one might think that the two powders carrying the same number are identical. One would be mistaken. They are different powders, differing in burn rate and pressure. Data from one can't be used safely with the other. The third powder that uses the 4895 designation is the surplus variety. It was manfactured for a particular purpose, and may or may not share the properties of either H4895 or IMR4895. The reloader is in unfamiliar territory and must use extreme caution until the powder is a known variable.

But, surplus powder is available at a considerable discount. It costs 30% to 50% less than retail powder. I just ordered an 8 lb jug of surplus 4895 and it will be delivered to my door at a considerable savings over retail. This is my first foray into the surplus powder market, and I am looking forward to the journey.


Anonymous said...

Some people have the opinion that “pull down” powder should be avoided. Do you specifically avoid the pull down stuff?

For non-reloaders, “pull-down” power has been removed from loaded rounds and placed back into the powder jug.

Anonymous said...

I have not reloaded in a number of years, but I agree that pull down powder should NEVER be used for reloading.

Do you know for a fact, on pain of DEATH, the exact powder that was used in those cartridges, and it's characteristics?

I am not willing to bet my life on saving a few dollars, and you shouldn't either.

Anonymous said...

>Do you know for a fact, on pain of DEATH, the exact powder that was used in those cartridges, and it's characteristics?

No, but the military does. They keep detailed records on ammo components. When it starts getting old, they sell it.

IMR 4895 and Hodgdon 4895 are both surplus IMR 4895, just from different lots, lots of 1000s of lbs. Pulled or new surplus powder is safe to use if (1) you start low and (2) buy it from an established dealer who sells tons of it annually.

I shoot 3 different kinds of surplus powder--WC820 (n), WC860, and IMR 4895. All work perfectly for my applications.

Around here, cannister powder is about $25 a lb with the tax. If memory serves, my powder came in the door at WC820 = $10 per lb; WC860 = $6 per lb; and IMR 4895 = $10 per lb.

Anonymous said...

OK, so the bulk of surplus pulled powder is from uncle sugar? That's interesting. I wonder how long they store the stuff before they break it down. Do they reload the cases with fresh, or sell 'em? I have seen surplus bullets with pull marks and brass that was already primed, but why not sell the loaded ammo, I would think that the ammo might be worth more whole.

Possible solution, perhaps pull-down powder is from ammo manufacturers that make ammo for the military, and that ammo fails under lot testing, perhaps the rounds would be too hot meet SAAIM specs to sell on the open market, or some related reason.

WC820(f) This is an unusual lot of WC820 that was rejected for use in .30 Carbine ammunition, due to the too fast burning rate. This is a ball powder which can be loaded using Hodgdon HS7 data or Win571 data. This is pulldown ball powder. $56/8# jug.

“30 Carbine” probably means that the powder has been around for a while but I have shot 60 year old mil-surp stuff out of a “spam can”, and they all went off. Properly stored it should be fine.

Anonymous said...

>I have seen surplus bullets with pull marks and brass that was already primed, but why not sell the loaded ammo, I would think that the ammo might be worth more whole.

It's illegal to sell surplus whole ammo for some dumb reason. Probably a right wing conspiracy. After they tear it down they can sell all the components, just not in the form of a loaded round. Maybe Pat Robertson owns a bunch of stock in an ammo company.

Anonymous said...

PS: make that, illegal to sell surplus USA made whole ammo.

Anonymous said...

^ SAAMI (Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers' Institute) specs, not SAAIM

j said:It's illegal to sell surplus whole ammo for some dumb reason.

This is funny that you can buy NATO spec surplus ammo from overseas countries.

Damn, that so wrong on so many levels. That's your and my tax money there.Fraud, Waste, and Abuse. Sounds like that's the same as why they cut the military hummers in half and sell them as scrap and why they won't sell M-14's (either carefully de-milled to semi-auto or with a proper tax stamp from the "tobacco ninjas" aka BATFU).

Anonymous said...

To start with, The main difference in the 4895's is both when AND where they were made. The IMR (Improved Military Rifle) brand started out in the early 1900's being made in Conn. as a division of Dupont. Dupont sold the IMR brand due to anti-trust laws since it was the only supplier of smokeless powder to the U.S Govt. It was sold to a Canadian firm that had it until Hodgdon bought it in the late 90's. So to this day, the IMR brand is still a product of Canada.

In an attempt to compete with IMR, Winchester started making a duplicate powder in Scotland, UK to sell to the brits to replace the cordite in the .303. The War broke out, and that was history. During the war, a plant in Austraila started making the powder for the .303 as well. After the war Winchester abandonded the 4895 idea, and started getting govt. contracts for ball powders from the NATO countries.

Bruce Hodgdon Started buying the unused lots of 4895 being made in Scotland until that plant stopped making it. He then turned to the Austrialan plan that has been making it ever since.

So the history leads to the reason why the two are very simular, but not interchangable; yet. There is also a Russian blend that is a touch slower than the IMR as well. Hodgdon wants to slowly move the burn rates to being the same, and then drop one of the brands. This will take quite a number of years to do. The 4198 merger will happen soonner, than the 4895.

skeet said...

Winchester invented the ball powders way back in the 1930's. They used believe it or not WW 1 surplus cannon powder for basic material in the beginning. I think the first use for military powder in ball form was the original powder in the 30 Carbine. Later to be called WC820..later still to be called 295..then 296. I bought a couple of 100 lb cans of 4831 waaaayyy back when they were selling the darn stuff surplus. It cost 70 cents a lb delivered if memory serves me right. I still have about 6 lbs left. Wore out qhite a few 25-06s. Loaded it to the base of the neck with 100gr bullets and to the base of the bullet with 87 gr. To the base of the neck with 130 270's. I also still use H4895 in many calibers starting with the 223(exc in it by the way) A little slower than IMR4895

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Ben Gibbd said...

Just my humble 2 cents worth on pull down powder, But I have used wc860 for .50 BMG, Wc820 for .410 and many pistol rounds and 4895 for most every .30 caliber rounds. I usually buy in 50 lb lots.
I will check first for same lot numbers then only on non static days place the whole lot in a plastic tub and mix very intimately then refill the jugs and store in a very dry cool storage. thereby having a uniform powder throughout. After 40+ years of reloading this has served me well for consistent and accurate ammo. As an added note and only because this is not hearsay but firsthand account. If you have ANY 5010 surplus powder, Watch it. I had one 8 Lb jug turn the white jug yellow, swell until it fell off the shelf and fume madly when opened. one jug looks fine but has a vinegar odor and the other four seem fine. The really bad one was placed in safe placed and watched as an experiment. It did not heat, It did not catch fire but it fumed for a year and I promise you the nitric acid being produced will destroy any brass cases in loaded ammo.