Civvy gun powder versus military gun powder??????????

Hi, I have just started research into the differences between civilian gun powder, specifically that used in modern shot gun cartridges and military grade powder from modern munitions.

Can anyone offer thier knowledge/any advice or know of any websites that maybe usefull to me?

Thank you
So far as I am aware, there is little difference between the powder used in military and civilian small arms ammunition.

Military ammunition may be a special formula in terms of burn rate, kernel size and so on but it is still pretty much the same stuff as is used by civilians, ie: nitrocellulose or nitroglycerine / nitrocellulose mix.

The only major difference is that military powder may have special additives which are intended to reduce flash and conceal the location of the shooter at night. Stability during storage and under extreme conditions is also likely to be a consideration.

Oh, one other thing: very old military ammunition may be made with corrosive primers. These will leave a deposit in the barrel which attracts water vapour and encourages rust.

This old ammo can still be used (if you can make it go off) but you need to wash put the barrel with hot water afterwards in order to get rid of the fouling.

More recent military ammo should be non-corrosive (it often says so on the pack).


PS: Powers may be similar, but cases often are not. Military ammo is often boxer-primed, whereas civilian ammo tends to be berdan-primed. Both can be reloaded, but not with the same equipment or components

PPS: Case dimensions may also vary - contrary to popular belief, .223 Rem and 5.56mm ammo is not exactly the same.
As an Ammo Tech I could, but i won't because there is nothing more ponderously boring then SAA.
dingerr said:
As an Ammo Tech I could, but i won't because there is nothing more ponderously boring then SAA.
So why,exactualuakagially, did you post? Skuse me an' I appollerjarze it this is a joke among youse ammo types!

As a serious hand loader, I have not come across any fundamental difference between modern military (read: Western) and civilian powders. Both can be either ball, cut tubular, or flake. I don't know what the Americans are using now, but previously they used the IMR (Improved Military Rifle) series of powders, which were and still are available commercially.

A point to note though is that shot gun powder is typically pistol powder rather than rifle powder due to the burn rate required.

In contradiction to what someone posts above, European military rifle brass is typically Berdan (two flash holes, anvil on the case) primed whereas an American military rifle brass is typically boxer (single flash hole, anvil as part of the primer) primed. The exception is 5.56 mm which seems to be also largely boxer primed. Pretty much all commercial brass, and the vast majority of military pistol brass, is boxer.

Powders come in such a huge variety of burn rates for a variety of different applications, so it is difficult to generalise. some are even developed for very specific applications, such as Vit 3N37 & 3N38, which I believe were developed specifically for high velocity 9 mm Parabellum loads for IPSC shooting.


PS: Powers may be similar, but cases often are not. Military ammo is often boxer-primed, whereas civilian ammo tends to be berdan-primed. Both can be reloaded, but not with the same equipment or components
Further to Stoatmans comments, most civilian ammunition is either sporting (SP) or FMJ for Target which may or may not be surplus. Thanks to the Ameericans insisting upon ammo being reloadable we have the easy to use Boxer (British) system which is largely replacing the European used military and reliable but not so easy to reload Berdan (US) system. Got that.
Powders were black powder of different coarsness up until about 1880 then developments with nitrocellulose gave us the French Powder B which the Germans stole, matched to the J Spitzer bullet which left us all years behind. The Yanks had developed this in parallel with the frogs but not by cooperating.
We used Cordite a stranded propellant which had many uses. NC is basically a very stable gun cotton.
During WW1 we contracted to the US and the company Dupont to provide propellant. All US loaded .303 cartridges from 1917 were Nitro Cellulose which meant the cases were stamped with a "Z" Hence M7z. Eventually we moved over to this which at the time was Improved Military rifle powder of 1917. IMR17. A good powder, no longer available.
Different powders were developed for different uses, some powder is a ball or flake or even stick shape and this also affects burn rate due to surface area of each flake etc. Different powders are used for different burn rates slow for magnum loads but with livelier primers to ensure even ignition and a steady pressure curve.
Propellant powder is a low explosive compared to dynamite. It has to be contained in a pressure vessel to have an explosive effect.
handloaders here use European and US reloading manuals which give set certain values. Most are used to tailor loads to a certain weapon or replicate an out of production ammo.
Anything more I suggest you get a life!
Hey! FFS, uggers! Oi was just gettin' inta me readin' stroide when ya did an' went off on me at a pace as loik! Write a book, do a series of installments on AARSE, vow to ply a secret lodge with your knowledge, but don't just do a huff on us like that! Me missis is still as of suffrin' an' all!



Sorry for cutting off like that. Smokeless powder and its development is a book all on its own, many authors brush over it in dealing with their key subjects such as National weapons and ammo etc. There is some good reading, P. Labbetts writings on the British 0.303 covered British military propellant in some depth. I attented his last lecture as he Passed away that night. A real Gent who knew his stuff but was still open to ideas and opinions.
Cordite was a funny propellant, a darned site better than the blackpowder that went before. The blackpowder which was known to ignite with friction had to loaded into the case in a solid pellet. The case was straight sided with no shoulder or neck. This loaded or charged case was then formed to the correct dimensions before being finished with a bullet.
Cordite was supposed to change this but it really wasnt until the advent of IMR17 in 1917 that the practise ceased dramatically cutting accidents in the filling sections of ammunition plants.
Most big powder producers have had serious accidents over the years.
Dupont started by selling surpluspowder from a railway carriage in the 1920's. It was the same carriage that the barrels of powder were delivered in from the disposal sale.
The US sold of almost all of its surplus to needs weapons and ammo and kept Springfield Govt Arsenal on tick over.
Thats enough from the memory bank, I'll bone up on my notes later. There are publications and societies that exist just for cartridge headstamps but very little is done for propellant. I lack the Chemistry degree so I wont understand too much of what I write let alone read.
This can be a very intersting field and the ballistics of small arms can be studied by using the programs available with loading recipe manual cd roms. I use an excellent one by Sierra called infinity which allows you to enter your Muzzle Velocity, give a distance for zero and it plots flight of bullet and drop on a chart. You can add variables such as barrel length, height of Scope above bore, heigth above sea level, temp and wind. This allows you to plot and print or email the graph to someone. Knowing the path of the bullet allows hold over or mildots.
Time for breakfast and a job interview.


That is bollox, we certainly dont waste money replacing the powder. You buy RG in this country it is the same if not from the same batch it is from the same plant as the stuff going out in brown metal boxes.
If the yanks are doing this then they are tapped. I personally find it difficult to believe. In WW1 we set up salvage depts where battlefield recoverd arms and ammo was broken down for re use. the SAA was stripped by old french women who produced barrels of powder. This I believe was used for making the Gun cotton Pellets such as the CE booster charges. The metal cases and bullets were returned to the UK as metal was in short supply.
Why on Earth do the yanks insist on anything, because they are Yanks I suppose?
Demilitarizing would surely consist of ensuring that tracer and exploding projectiles were not sold and de linking ball ammo from MG links. perhaps at a push putting it in white cardboard boxes instead of tan ones?
Isuspect thatis another internet myth that needs debunking!


I'm not sure how PMC not producing 5.56 for the civilian market would be affected by the rise in production of the miltary contract .50 ammo? Unless I am really stupid they use different machines and it takes ages to set up machines for different calibres. I knew some RG people and they said then that they would leave a production line idle for years rather than retool it to a different calibre. You dont get much more different than .223 to .50! They also said that set up is expensive followed by the training of staff. If you need to maintain all production then you train more staff or dilute the existing lines with new staff. This all adds to the delays in supply which is why most factories of any sort are reluctant to re open lines or start new ones without a massive guaranteed contract!
Sounds utterly tapped in the head to me, especially given that military and commercial powder are the same stuff! Also, dismantling SAA is nontrivial (kinetic bullet pullers are messy and take ages, collet-type pullers risk deforming the bullet).

I agree with ugly -- "demilitarisation" can only realistically mean delinking, removing AP, API, tracer etc and possibly re-boxing.
Certainly doesn't happen in the UK. I bought 200 rds of Radway Green 7.62 link at the weekend (1 ball 1 tracer). It came in a sealed can. Surprisingly good.


Up until RG sold all the reserves of 1957 vintage Mk7 0.303 to the sceptics you could still get it on the vickers gun bandoliers.
I think this is another US internet myth designed to make someone (the govt) sound like cnuts (why I dont know as they can do that without any help) and to big up the authors reputation which seems solely based on slagging others off!
T'internet shouldnt be allowed over there!
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