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Hey I have question about gunpowder how long does this stuff stay good, we have a firefighter who wants to use his fathers old equipment but is unsure about the powder. So we all took a guess and are running a wager,unfortunatley none of us know enough about gunpowder so I figured on asking someone with alot more knowledge than myself.
 

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Depends on the powder and (mostly) on how it's been stored.
If it's gotten damp from humidity in the air, or it's been stored in hot conditions, or in non-original containers, it can deteriorate quickly.

Most modern powder has a shelf life of at least 10 years.
Some people say to smell it. If it smells like Acetone or alcohol it's good, if it smells like acid it's bad.
Personally, I don't think the "smell test" is worth your life.

Best option: If it's more then 10 years old...DON'T use it. Life is short enough as is, no need to shorten it further by saving a few dollars and having a gun blow up in your face.

I'd suggest taking it out in an open field and spreading it out in a long, thin trail and igniting it to let it safely burn up.

If he also has primers, they are also likely not safe to use either. DON'T burn them.
 

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if you're going to get rid of it,

just spread it on your yard. It's fertilizer.
 

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Arsenal explosions have happened through decomposition of old smokeless powder, but this depends on the storage of powder in very large bins or canisters, which allows heat to build up. I don't think there is any chance of this when the powder is stored in one or two pound cans.

The smell test is well worth doing, immediately after a sealed canister is opened. The gases from decomposition have such an acrid smell that you can detect them in very small quantities. Besides, decomposition of the powder usually results in its having less energy, not more.

The key word is sealed. Smokeless powder regularly surprises people by being perfectly good after much more than ten years of hermetically sealed storage. Moisture content doesn't make a great deal of difference, and in fact less for a given percentage than some substances which are deliberate additives. Long-term exposure to either humidity or drying is also an opportunity for other forms of deterioration, but there should be nothing wrong with powder which has been exposed for a week or so to extreme humidity in the distant past, then sealed ever since. But I found strands of artillery powder which had been exposed to extreme sunlight for over two years in Kuwait, and it broke more easily, and burned less brightly, than most plastics.

Black powder is good as long as it continues to look like black powder. If it has been damp enough for the grains to disintegrate, then dried out, the chemical composition is fine. But it may compact too much for free ignition, or it may give the speed, dangerous in some black powder firearms, of much finer-grained powder. If it has been really wet, then dried out, it may be very weak indeed, since the intimate relationship of its constituents (the secret of good black powder) may have been replaced by larger crystals of saltpetre.

Very old primers, such as are found in early cartridges, may decompose enough to become inactive. But modern ones generally don't, and retain their power. If you have a revolver, you have as good a primer tester as any. Just load a case with a primer only, and fire it with a piece of thick copper foil or soft drink can aluminium sandwiched in the cylinder gap. This should be domed and torn, and i think it will look the same as with a primer you have just bought.

I tend to disbelieve in anything causing spontaneous or unduly easy ignition of modern commercial primers. The main thing is to keep them in the original packaging, which is designed to prevent the ignition of one being communicated to the rest, with all the little trays facing the same direction, i.e. not facing one another. If you are fussy, you can lay all the trays side by side in a flat chocolate box. Their action is too momentary to ignite much besides powder, as you can prove by using a piece of paper in the cylinder gap.
 

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I've got some that has been in the original containers for over 20 yrs. that is fine. I use pull down powder from the '50's Yugo 8mm that shoots great. Have some 8mm Mauser that was made in the '30's that shoots OK. So as the guy's say there are a lot of variables to consider when using old powder. YMMV
 

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Just finished what was left of a 4 lb can of Unique that was bought in 1975. Was PROPERLY stored (and forgotten) with other reloading stuff until a few months ago. Loaded .45 ACP, .357 MAG and .38 SPl's........all went "Bang" , nothing unusual.
As mentioned above, "Its all in how its stored", container and climate....cool and dry.:D
 

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50 years plus if properly made, sealed and kept at typical room temperatures, preferably air conditioned. Supposedly if it smells like vinegar if its started to decompose but I wouldn't swear by it. I suspect that powder makers and sellers have both financial and liability reasons for not claiming long shelf life, plus reloaders or resellers may mislabel and/or repackage old powder.


http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=6289

Black and Smokeless Powders:
Technologies for Finding Bombs and the Bomb Makers
Authors:
Committee on Smokeless and Black Powder, National Research Council

Page 162 - "Stabilizer"

"A chemical incorporated in solid propellant to react with the decomposition products and prolong the shelf life of the propellant. Typically used at concentration of 0.5 percent to 2 percent. When properly stabilized, smokeless powder has a shelf life of nearly 100 years at 20 °C."
 
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If you can take a whiff off the powder and not go into spasms of coughing and gagging due to the byproducts of residual acid breakdown, the powder is fine.

A smell of ether is completely normal; an acrid acidic smell (or any reddish fumes or powder) indicates that residual nitric acid in the powder was not properly washed out or neutralized and the powder is breaking down.

If that is the case, do as dfariswheel suggests and dispose of it by burning someplace safe. Smokeless powders DO NOT "make good fertilizer" so don't dump it on your lawn; this is a long-standing myth. Smokeless powders are boiled for up to several days as part of the manufacturing process, so they're not going to dissolve into your lawn. Nor are they going to be harmed by atmospheric moisture...

The "professional" means of disposal is burning. Dumping powder into your lawn isn't likely to lead to disaster, but it's still going to be flammable in 10 or 20 years if someone tosses down a cigarette.
 

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You're right about disposal, but....

With the new PC Admin coming in, d'ya think smoking will still be legal in 10 or 20 years?

In a more serious vein, the stuff makes fantastic kindling for a fire-starter in wet woods....
 

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This past summer I finished up loading some GreenDot and RedDot powder in 12ga I had originally bought in 1967. It was bought in bulk at that time (coffee cans) and was stored in them plus wrapped in plastic bags and tied shut. Stored in several different places over the years but always away from high temps and humidity. It worked just fine. Ammo dated from WW1 worked fine also as it was stored well too. Improper storage will kill it in short order. Properly stored, it's shelf life is more than our lifetime.
 

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In 1993 onwards in Kuwait, I used to find a lot of fired and unfired Iraqi ammunition where their old positions had been. A lot, mostly in 7.62 NATO etc. which they had captured and didn't use, had been dismantled, which I assumed to be for lighting fires. There were also a few sporting rounds, and just one .460 Weatherby Magnum, a bit more powerful than really has much point even for elephant, which they must have looted from some large Kuwaiti houses nearby.
 

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Right after Dupont changed their powder manufacturing from the U.S. to Canada I had bought a 1lb can of IMR 4320 to try in the 30-06. Only had the can for about 6 months. Powder was made in the U.S.. When I opened the can the lid was rusted, red dust aka rust and the powder had an off smell. Used it to fertilize the grass. Only thing I can figure is that prior to the operation being moved to Canada, not all the steps were followed that should have been. I've had powder that is over 20 years old and still has that solvent smell. And do check my stocks yearly. Not that with the current crazyness I have a large stash of powder. I do shoot cast bullets and depending on the cast bullet, powder charges are less than 55% of a normal load. Frank
 
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