American powder manufacturers have no uniform practice in regard to designating the different grades of powder, sizes of grains, etc. The powders that give the best .results under certain conditions must therefore be classified.
Smokeless powder differs from black not only in composition but also in the phenomena that attend combustion. Special conditions are therefore created which have an important bearing on the results. Smokeless powders are divided into two general classes, designated as " bulk " and " dense," the former having approximately the same strength as an equal bulk of black powder, while the same quantity by bulk of the latter may have from five to ten times the strength of black powder.
The bulk powders may be used very much the same as black powder, except that they should never be compressed. No air space is required between the powder and the bullet. Dupont's Smokeless Rifle Powder No. 2 and Hazard's Smokeless Rifle Powder No. 2 are good examples of the bulk powders. Dupont's R. S. Q. is a bulk powder that has recently been introduced. It gives fair results in pistol and revolver ammunition in full charges, but is not as well adapted for reduced or gallery loads. It requires an air space for the best results.
The dense powders, such as Bullseye, Du Pont Pistol No. 3, Walsrode, and others, on account of their concentrated form, must be manipulated with great care and precision. The same quantity by bulk as black powder of any of these would in many cases cause disaster. Special shells with an annular crease, which only admits the bullet a certain distance into the mouth of the shell, and providing an air space, should in all cases be used with these powders.
Nearly all varieties of smokeless powders require a certain amount of confinement in order to secure complete combustion, and do not give good results unless the shell is crimped securely to the bullet.
A table giving the proper charges is supplied by all the manufacturers of smokeless powders, suitable for revolver and pistol shooting. These charges should in no case be increased. If it is desired to adapt a smokeless charge to a special bullet, which gives good results with black powder, the approximate equivalent in smokeless powder can easily be calculated from the powder company's table of charges. If the calculated charge does not give good results, compare the penetration of the smokeless charge with the black powder charge, and modify the former until it gives approximately the same penetration as the latter. If this does not correct the difficulty, the fit of the bullet should be investigated, and possibly it may have to be increased in size slightly and hardened before the best results will be obtained.
No attempt should be made to secure higher velocities or greater penetration with the ordinary lead bullet than is obtained with black powder. Such results can only be produced with hard alloy or jacketed bullets, special rifling, etc., and in arms designed to withstand the severe conditions incident to such augmented effects. Excessive charges in regulation arms, besides being extremely dangerous, are likely to cause the bullet to strip the rifling and lead the barrel.
The most recent activity in the matter of smokeless powders is the series of experiments with the U. S. Government pyro-cellulose formula. The powders are cut to such dimensions as will fit them for both pistol and rifle cartridges. This powder has the advantage of causing much less erosion than the nitro-glycerine powders and for that reason will probably appeal to the ammunition manufacturers and consumers to such an extent as to secure its adoption, if the experiments now in progress prove to be satisfactory from a ballistic standpoint.
Himmelwright, A.L.A.. Pistol and Revolver Shooting. New York: MacMillan, 1922.
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