Smokeless powder is not to be confused with what is considered true black powder. There are muzzleloaders today that use true black powder but “synthetic” black powder is becoming more acceptable.
True black powder is considered an explosive while smokeless powder is considered a flammable. This article will talk about the storage and handling of smokeless powder however.
Hand loading is popular today especially for competition shooters. However, it is a skill that any Prepper should consider acquiring. While you may find there is not much of a financial benefit to hand loading, and in some cases may be more expensive however, financial savings is not the point here.
Being able to hand load during a crisis would be a valuable skill, and it would be a skill that could be used for bartering when the SHTF. If you acquire the skills, materials and equipment needed you can maintain ammunition levels under any conditions. The so-called bench hand loaders can easily be transported along with scales, powder, primers and shell casings, so you can load virtually anywhere, without the need for electricity or other outside resources.
The following is informational only, and are only general guidelines. Know your local laws and regulations on storage and use. There are laws concerning the number of pounds that can be stored before you would be required to build a special structure to house your powder.
The following information of course does not supersede any local, state or federal laws or regulations, and you should always contact the proper authorities before, use of or disposal of any flammable or explosive material.
Know What Can Ignite Smokeless Powder
Flame created from a match or a primer flash
An electrical spark
Sparks given off while welding, grinding, or striking metal upon metal
Heat given off from an electric hot plate, for example, or a fire directed against or near where powder is stored
Flame from a pilot light on any gas appliance
The list of course is not comprehensive but the point is that smokeless powder can be ignited by various means and care must be taken when working with it.
1.) Store the powder in its original container. The canisters that the smokeless powder is placed in from the manufacturer have what are called “weak seams” to prevent pressurized containment of any gases given off during ignition. The seams are designed to fail allowing gases to escape if the powder ignites, thus not turning the container into a bomb, a “fragmentation grenade” in other words.
Store the powder in a secured location but not in an airtight or even tightly sealed compartment. Wooden boxes can be considered if there is sufficient space for gases to build and seams where the gas can escape the compartment.
Smokeless powder does not need access to an oxygen source to ignite. The compound itself contains enough oxygen for ignition even if stored in airtight compartments.
When smokeless powder burns, it burns at a very high temperature causing gases to form, which in turn will create tremendous pressure. This pressure is what propels the round down the barrel. However, if confined in the wrong container and ignition occurs, the pressure may build causing an explosion. Therefore, space must be provided for the gases to escape.
2.) Never handle powder, or attempt to load while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, prescription or otherwise that may impair your mind. Wear safety goggles and a dust mask/respirator when handling or loading.
3.) Do not vacuum up spilled powder, instead sweep carefully into a dustpan, and then place in an open container for proper disposal. Disposal tips will discussed later on in this article.
4.) Dust from smokeless powder is highly flammable, so do not work with the powder if any open flames are present such as a pilot light on a hot water heater or furnace. Some of you may find it convenient to work in your garage or basement where these appliances would typically be located. Consider a storage shed not connected to the house for storage and handling of powder or when loading shells.
5.) Store in a cool dry place, and again store in its original container.
While smokeless powder has, an extended shelf life if stored properly there may be times when the powder becomes questionable, so it must be disposed of. Smokeless powder simply burns hot, when spread thin and when not confined, so it can be ignited safely under the right conditions for destruction.
Pick a safe spot first and make sure you have the needed equipment/materials on hand to extinguish any secondary fires that may be created. Ideal locations would be grassless areas, and not near any structures, vegetation or any other combustible materials.
Layer the powder one inch or less on the ground for burning, but save a portion of the powder for laying a trail back to the spread powder. Once the powder is spread properly, scrape a shallow depression away from the powder and sprinkle enough powder in the trench to create a fuse essentially. This allows you to ignite the powder safely from a distance. You do not want to toss a match on to it while standing over the powder. The powder will ignite quickly, similar to how charcoal lighter ignites charcoal, but with considerably more flame and heat.
Some claim that scattering the powder around the yard or garden is acceptable. This method is not recommended, because the powder can be ignited even after considerable time has passed and even if covered with soil it can be ignited. Powder not “burned off” safely in a controlled manner is a fire hazard when left scattered on the ground or if left scattered anywhere for that matter.