In The Black
Handloader|December - January 2020
All is Not Equal in the World of Black Powder
Terry Wieland

Legend has it that black powder in the late 1800s was far superior to that which is available today. Further legend has it that the best of the 1890 black powder was Curtis’s & Harvey’s No. 6, an English powder that was highly prized in the U.S. It was both expensive and hard to come by, but shooters loved it. Alas, modern shooters are not in a position to prove or disprove either of these legends, since none of the powders from the 1800s are available for testing.

A few years ago, I found myself in a gathering that included a GOEX executive. GOEX is the American black-powder company, now owned by Hodgdon, successor to a long line of explosives manufacturers stretching back to DuPont, Hazard’s and Laflin & Rand. In the course of our conversation, this gentleman became insistent – and later forcefully insistent – that his company’s products were not only the best available today, they were as good as any black powder ever produced. The basis for his position, apparently, was the results of various laboratory tests. Any idea that Curtis’s & Harvey’s No. 6 was better, he simply dismissed as myth and folklore.

Today, there are many brands of black powder available to the American shooter – far more than there were, for example, in the 1960s. Today we have not only GOEX and its various sub-brands, such as Olde Eynsford, but also Elephant (Brazil), Schuetzen (Germany), Swiss (Switzerland) and house brands like that from Graf & Sons.

Evaluating them is tricky. It’s not at all like comparing different types of smokeless powders, for a number of reasons. First, smokeless powders are chemical compounds. Without getting much further into it than that, we can say that what differentiates smokeless powders are their relative burning rates, which are dependent on such factors as grain size, shape and coating, as well as their chemical makeup.

Black powder, on the other hand, is a mechanical mixture of charcoal, sulfur and saltpeter. It’s an explosive (for lack of a better term) that releases all of its energy in one big bang. (It is not quite that way, technically, but it doesn’t matter.) Unlike smokeless powders, however, much of this energy is turned into smoke and solid compounds left behind to foul the bore. In theory, at least, the only thing that determines black powder burning rates is grain size, with Fg being the largest and FFFFg the smallest, with some almost dust used only for priming pans and such.

To an experienced black-powder shooter, this explanation may be simplistic to the point of absurdity, but for newcomers to the game, overly technical explanations may be incomprehensible. The purpose here is to give some practical guidance. In my own case, my experience with smokeless powders goes back 55 years, but I’ve been using black powder in various guns and rifles for only a decade or so. What I’ve found is that black powder is fascinating in its own right, but you have to check preconceptions at the door and approach it as a whole new field of endeavor.

One writer who has made black powder almost his life’s work is Sam Fadala. Some years ago, he contributed a “Propellant Profiles” column that can be found in the latest Wolfe Publishing publication of Propellant Profiles. He makes the point that different brands of powder, ostensibly the same grade (i.e., granulation, such as FFFg) will produce different velocities given the same amount, with the same projectile, in the same gun. This “does not make one better than another, only different.” This is a good point. Higher velocity is not always the goal.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine




2 mins read
May 03, 2021

Another Front in the COVID Fight

The commander of a National Guard task force says they’re filling gaps in the health care system.

3 mins read
Kiplinger's Personal Finance
May 2021

PROTEIN: the Right Dose for Maximum MUSCLE GROWTH

The anabolic response within muscle, or net gain in muscle protein, is the difference between the rates of muscle protein synthesis versus muscle protein breakdown where greater protein synthesis produces muscle growth.

4 mins read
Muscular Development
March 2021

Bat Masterson: Armed and Dangerous

Bat Masterson lived long enough to enjoy the fame associated with his legendary time on the Kansas frontier as a lawman in Dodge City, and he never shied from promoting it, as he did when he notched a pawnshop pistol he sold as “his” frontier Colt to an overeager collector. – TRUE WEST ARCHIVES –

3 mins read
True West
February - March 2021



4 mins read
Adventure Motorcycle (ADVMoto)
January - February 2021

The last playoff win

Perhaps for some Dolphins fans it seems like just yesterday. For others, it might seem like an entire generation ago.

6 mins read
Dolphin Digest
January 2021

Sophie's Secret

How could a dog know just what so many people needed?

5 mins read
Angels on Earth
Jan/Feb 2021

Flat Top Follow Up


4 mins read
The Black Powder Cartridge News
Winter 2020

Whitewashing the Great Depression

How the preeminent photographic record of the period eclipsed people of color and shaped the nation’s self-image

10+ mins read
The Atlantic
December 2020



3 mins read
Arthritis Today
Fall/Winter 2020