Most Popular Pistol Reloading Powders

Susan Fernandez November 11 2021

Are you frequently handloading or reloading ammunition? Or just looking for information on how to do it right? In either case, this will be a very informative article for you, so keep reading.

Many gun users hand-reload pistol ammunition due to multiple reasons like commercial availability, cost-saving, or to make a custom round for specific needs. For starters, the three basic components that a reloader will need are primers, bullets, and smokeless gunpowder. Primers will ignite the gunpowder, triggering a shot from the firearm. Furthermore, smokeless gunpowder fills the cartridge to be propelled out of the chamber upon firing.

Out of the three components choosing accurate gunpowder is most important.

Can you pull off a successful pistol reloading job without smokeless gunpowder? Maybe. But it's much more difficult and risky compared to using a proper propellant. So let's just assume that if you're into serious hand gunning or shooting sports, then it is really necessary for you to have at least one type of powder in your handloading supplies as well as other components.

Effect of reloading powders on gun parts

The use of different pistol powders also affects the recoil and muzzle flash. Powder charge weight, bullet seating depth, and seating die (seating stem) design all contribute to how fast or slow a powder burns when ignited. A normal “+P” load is designed for the best velocity when using smokeless powder in any particular cartridge.

The performance of smokeless powder does not change when it is used for rifle cartridges compared to handgun cartridges; only its loading characteristics (bumps in charge weights and volumes) differ depending on the barrel length and chambering. Flame temperature is also affected by barrel length. The longer the barrel, the higher the flame temperatures will be; however, this can be counteracted with an adequate powder charge.

Good pistol powder is characterized by several traits or features.

  • First, it must be clean-burning so residue won’t accumulate in the gun.
  • Second, it must burn evenly without clumping up when ignited to ensure even pressure when shot out of the gun.
  • Finally, its ballistic performance is also important in that it should produce enough muzzle velocity to push the bullet downrange accurately.

Components of pistol reloading powders

The powder is a mixture of one or more chemicals, mostly nitrocellulose, and nitroglycerin. Manufacturers produce powder in different forms; the most common form is granular (flaked) but it is also produced in compressed cylindrical blocks similar to stick-type lighters.

Unlike handgun cartridges that use primers for ignition, rifle cartridges have their own primer pockets built into the brass shell casings where small caps are embedded. The smokeless powder contains its own igniter called “propellant” while some do not have a propellant at all.

Pistol ammo made from smokeless gunpowder can be used more than once by just reloading the expended bullet shells with fresh load data. In addition, today’s cartridges have a greater powder capacity because of the better engineering.

In conclusion, for reliable pistol loads, it is best to choose from common smokeless gunpowder brands such as Hodgdon and Alliant. This would not only give you a wider selection but also ensure that you get optimum performance with your firearm.

Safety reminder: Primers have more explosive strength compared to small rifle gunpowder grains so always consult your reloading manual before doing any reloading operations.

The use of too much or too little powder can cause misfires and other problems, especially if you are dealing with pistol cartridge cases with primers built into their casings. If you accidentally use the wrong type of powder on some of your cartridges, then you should just throw them away and start all over again.

When using smokeless gunpowder in rifle cartridges, always choose those with a slow burn rate. This is to make sure that the powder charge does not react too quickly and cause the brass casing to expand and stick inside the chamber of your gun after firing.

During cartridge loading operations on some types of guns such as shotguns, especially those with break-action receivers (such as double-barreled shotguns), never leave loose gunpowder near open flames such as lighted cigarettes or fireplaces because this can set off an explosion that can lead to serious injuries or even death.

The granularity of reloading powders

Pistol reloading powders are available in different thicknesses. The most common granulation is “ball” powder, which is the same size as the lead balls for muzzleloading guns. These types of pistol reloading powders burn consistently and cleanly compared to other grains that are coarser or finer.

Coarsely ground pistol powder can be difficult to load into cases evenly which can affect accuracy while fine-grain types are not suitable for subsonic loads because they do not burn efficiently particularly when used with heavy bullets.

Using handgun cartridges with +P loads requires the use of special powders manufactured by some companies such as Alliant Powder. For these, they have “Power Pistol” and Hodgdon has their “TiteGroup”.

Most popular reloading powders

Not every powder can be used in every condition, so it’s better to understand what powder to use for better functionality and, of course, safety. The availability of many powders on the market is also confusing for newbie reloaders. So let’s have a look at some of the powders and when to use them.

Very Fast Pistol Powder: Ramshot Competition

This flake powder is usually used for reloading shotgun ammunition but can also be used for pistol ammo. Its ideal application is for .38 special loads and .45 ACP, but it can also be used in a 9mm Luger (low-recoil).

This is a very fast powder, thus delivering reduced velocity for pistol cartridges. I personally only use this powder for .45 ACP and 9mm Luger rounds for pistol ammo. Identifying this powder is fairly easy because of its gray color. The gray color makes it easier to see the base of the brass shell, which becomes handy when checking powder charge in longer shells like 0.38 special.

Fast Pistol Powder: Accurate #2

Accurate #2 is a fine spherical powder with low density. A lot of it can easily be filled in the shell, but this property also makes it more dangerous if you make an error while charging.

This is one of the cleanest burning powders, and because it is a fast-burning powder, it also does not offer a high velocity like other fast-burning powders compared to slow-burning ones. Its load data (recipe) is easily available. It also offers a high level of accuracy; that’s why it is my favorite. Its spherical form and gray color make it easily identifiable.  It can be used for .45 ACP and .38 special loads and for 9mm Luger.

 Medium Slow Pistol Powder: Accurate #7

This is a small-grained powder also spherical in shape. Accurate #7 offers high velocity in 40 L&W and 9 mm Luger, comparable to factory-manufactured ammunition. It also has a +P load data (high internal pressure recipe) for 9mm Luger.

It is a lot better when compared to accurate #5 and also burns very smoothly. This powder is better suited for medium charge weights. It can also be used in conventional magnum revolver cartridges.

Magnum Pistol Powder: Accurate #9

Accurate #9 is a fine quality thin-grained spherical powder that offers high velocities in powerful magnum pistol cartridges and some rifle rounds. A very small amount of it is required to charge.357 magnum loads and it is also a popular choice to use in other revolver cartridges.

Hope this article was useful for you and your pistol