Black Powder (& Substitutes)

for Dummies,

page 2

Pistol/Pistol Caliber Rifle Reloading
These instructions use a Dillon XL650. Feel free to modify for your machine. It will load 500-1,000 rounds of smokeless powder an hour and is very reliable. The number of BP sub rounds it will load depends on several things, and we'll get to that. First, for the big calibers, take out the pistol charge bar and put in a rifle charge bar unless you're loading less than 20 gr. A full charge on a .45 Colt is 34± (depending on bullet used) grains by volume. 30 gr./weight of APP FFg or Pinnacle FFg are 34 gr. volume, for example.
American Pioneer Powder, in FFg form, is a collection of various sized and shaped miniature rocks, and it does not meter as well. THE GOOD NEWS IS: APP FFFg meters well and works in all SASS main match cartridges and 12 ga. shotgun. I even use it in .45-70 and .38-55 for Plainsman. I no longer buy FFg and get case loads of FFFg for everything. Triple Seven—Only FFg can be used in cartridges of 777, and it meters very well. People will tell you it is impossible to get consistent rounds from APP FFg. However, I've managed to use FFg APP for several years, so it can be done. One secret is:
Powder Check Die
Dillon Powder Check Die
The XL650 has a station for a powder check. A plunger will determine low or high powder. I recommend its use with FFg especially. Those odd sized little "chunks" of APP are inconsistent. Sometimes you'll get a charge that's high. Sometimes it's low. Those cases should be removed, weighed, and adjusted, then put back in the loader. The powder check is a lifesaver when you get empty cases at the powder check station.
Dillon Powder Check die demonstrating a proper charge.  The pointer is in the groove.  If the charge is too high or too low, the pointer will touch the metal, and the circuit will be completed, causing the checker to buzz annoyingly.
Properly adjusted for the charge, the powder check will look like this when you have a properly charged case. If the plunger touches high or low a buzzer buzzes, and you stop what you're doing and check that case. Weigh that charge if in doubt.
The cases must be dry. APP will stick to case lube and block the opening from the powder measure and result in no powder in the case at all. If you load the bottleneck cases, .44-40, 38-40, and .32-20, you may need to run them through the resizing die lubed, then tumble them to remove the lube, then run them through the loader again. You do this run sans the resizing/decapping die. (With a 650, get an extra tool head. Put the resizing/decapping die on one tool head, the other dies on the other.) Normally I lubricate .45 Colt and .45 Schofield cases to minimize reloader's elbow, but I can't for American Pioneer Powder. I don't lubricate .38 Special cases, and they load very well with APP FFFg. If you've been loading smokeless and lubricating, clean the dies of lube before switching to American Pioneer Powder. For cases that need lube I have switched to Hornady One Shot lube, and it works with APP. When you finish loading for the night, empty the powder measure back into the original powder container and seal the container. Blow the measure out with compressed air or otherwise make sure it's empty. Clean off the reloading press of excess powder. Fired American Pioneer Powder is non-corrosive, but unfired American Pioneer Powder is at least hygroscopic. Assume that Pinnacle and 777 are at least mildly hygroscopic. (2014 note: I don't think that's necessary with new production APP BUT I live in the desert now. If you live in Houton or New Orleans, test first).

Dillon Note:

You can load .45 Schofield (correctly called .45 S & W, but both Starline and Black Hills call theirs .45 Schofield) cases in .45 Colt dies by just readjusting everything. I used a separate tool head and set of dies for the Schofield cases to eliminate the adjusting. The rims are bigger. Other, more resourceful loaders than I, have told me they use .44-40 shellplate. I haven't tried it, but only because I stopped shooting Schofield ammo. All .45 cases should get a strong roll crimp in all cases, smokeless or smoky. I use Dillon dies. (2014-Haven't used .45 Colt for main match for several years now. .38 Special is much cheaper to feed.)


Unlike black powder and Pyrodex, magnum primers are not needed for the substitutes. (For that matter, I don't personally think they're needed for Goex FFg and FFFg or the discontinued but excellent Goex Cowboy. I load it pretty much like I do the subs but substitute BP lubed bullets.) My normal primers have been Winchester LP for .45 Colt, and these are marked "For regular and magnum ammunition," but I've also used Federal 150s, and they are not a magnum primer. For .45 Colt just use regular primers. Magnum primers will result in increased pressure. (2014-I've been using Federals for several years. Winchesters need stiffer springs in the guns. I still use standard primers, Federal standard for practice ammo and match primers for match ammo, whether APP or Goex.


American Pioneer Powder and 777 make their own lubricant, so you do not need to use SPG or another special black powder lubricant with them. I've been using standard commercially available bullets with some sort of blue smokeless lubricant with no problems. Using APP and 777and commercially lubed bullets I can go 6 stages without cleaning. This is normally a day's shooting at a match. If you make your own, try them with no lubricant at all. American Pioneer Powder and Hogdon recommend it.

For those who don't believe a propellant can make its own lube, a mention of what lube does in a black powder bullet is appropriate: It keeps the fouling soft. The residue from these propellants is soft and wet, so it qualifies as lube.


If you're doing a full charge, put in enough American Pioneer Powder, 777 or Pinnacle to just touch the bullet with little or no compression. Pressures build very quickly with compression of 777, less so with the others. I've found 1/16"-1/10" works fine with American Pioneer Powder and Pinnacle.

Reduced Charges

American Pioneer Powder has prohibitions against using wads or fillers EXCEPT IN COWBOY ACTION SHOOTING LOADS. 777 has always had very restrictive loading instructions. Thus the reduced charges instructions apply only to APP.

What happens if you don't fill the air space between powder and bullet?

Does the firearm blow up and remove your hand?

No, not in CAS main match cartridges, .45 Colt or smaller. The space is too small for the blowup phenomenon that's occurred with big front stuffing rifles from long air spaces.

You get inconsistent loads. One will be puff, the next BANG. Accuracy suffers. 777's instructions are quite insistent not to leave spaces.

Methods of filling the air space with reduced charges:
1. Thick wads


Circle Fly Wads

Circle Fly makes half inch thick fiber wads. Inserting them at station 4, then seating the bullet on the wad, is fairly easy, but it will double or triple the loading time unless you're doing something I never managed.
2. Caulk Backer Rod

For .45 caliber cases I used 1/2" diameter Caulk Backer Rod, found at a hardware store. It's a long foam rod, found where you find weather stripping. I built a jig so I could cut it into the correct lengths with an X-Acto knife. Get a box of 100 blades with the knife. A dull blade will tear the foam. At the bullet seating stage insert the pre-cut rod until it is below the top lip of the case and insert the bullet as normal, compressing the rod a lot and thus the powder slightly. This gives consistent loads with reduced charges. For .44 sized cases, use 3/8" Caulk Backer Rod.

Jig for Caulk Backer Rod wads

I built a simple wad jig out of 1/4" and 1/2" plywood. The distance between the two pieces of 1/4" ply is the length of the finished wad. The hole is the diameter of the wad, in this case, 1/2", drilled with a Forstner bit for a clean edge. Completed wads can be flicked into the box below. The blue thing on the left is a clamp holding the jig to the workbench.

Curtting the wad to a consistent length using the jig
Using a #1 X-acto knife with a fresh #11 blade, the wad is cut
Using the jig gives consistent wads.
The jig gives consistent lengths and straight cuts. It takes about an hour to cut up a 25' roll.
The right hand shoves the Caulk Backer Rod into the jig, and the left hand uses the X-Acto knife (with fresh blade)
Closeup of the cutting. What's wrong with this picture? If you say, "nothing," you're left-handed. I'm left handed. (That means build it backwards if you're right handed.)

No, we're not making blanks here. We're using filler of 1/2" Caulk Backer Rod to fill the case and provide compression for a lighter than full charge of powder. At this point we've inserted the pre-cut section of Caulk Backer Rod.

Tamping the wad down using the bullet reversed

Now we're tamping it down with the bullet, used backwards. Don't leave it like that.

Seating the bullet correctly
Now we're seating the bullet correctly. The powder is compressed as it would be with a full charge. It will work consistently with this filler. With APP and 777 prohibiting fillers and wads, these instructions apply to Pinnacle but work with all.
Empty the powder back into its original container and seal it

When done for the night, remove the powder measure, and pour the left-over powder back into its original container and seal it. (American Pioneer Powder shown above). Clean up around the loader to remove any spilled powder. Don't leave any rounds in the machine to prevent moisture contamination of half-completed rounds.

Wonder Wads
Wonder Wads
Using Wonder Wads as fillers is expensive. Additionally, the lubricants in the wads have been known to contaminate the powder in storage. Hodgdon does recommend them for 777, but only one wad per round.
Please go to Page 3