Vihtavuori Pistol Powders: Accurate and Clean Burning

posted on May 17, 2017

We are fortunate as handloaders to be able to produce the highest quality ammunition available for our guns. We have the best components available: cases, bullets, gunpowders and primers. With the right combination, we can bring out our gun’s full potential.

Some of the best smokeless powders are made in Laukaa, Finland by Vihtavuori. These premium powders are offered in a full range of burning rates for use in every cartridge we shoot, from rimfires to the .50 BMG, and shotguns. They are extruded powders of varying size to regulate their burning characteristics. The pistol powders are porous single base nitrocellulose and cylindrically shaped.

Figure 1.

Not everyone is familiar with the Vihtavuori brand like they are with Hodgdon, Alliant, Winchester, Accurate, IMR and Ramshot. Vihtavuori powders are all imported, and we often associate the more familiar brands as produced by U.S. companies. However, even some of the U.S. ‘brands’ get some of their powders from other countries.

Vihtavuori powders have a reputation for being some of the cleanest burning powders available. Many competitive shooters use them for that reason, in addition to fulfilling their other needs. The other thing Vihtavuori powders are known for is their accuracy. They are used for target loads by some of the best shooters in sports that require consistent, extreme precision. That says a lot about a powder.

Here’s a summary of Vihtavuori pistol powders. Look them over and see which ones might fit your needs. They are listed in the order of their burning rate, from fastest to slowest.

This is the fastest burning Vihtavuori powder. Its burning rate is similar to Bullseye and WST. Like many fast burning powders, it is often used for light target loads, and also paired with light bullets. It requires light charge weights, and that means less recoil than slower powders that require more weight to achieve the same velocity. It won’t provide you with the highest velocities that can be achieved in most calibers because of its fast burning rate. That is a job better suited for slower powders.

N310 has a well-earned reputation for accuracy, and is used by many of the top bullseye shooters in the .45 Automatic. The target shows a 10-shot group at 25 yards when N310 was paired with a 185-grain Nosler JHP bullet producing 773 fps from my .45 pistol with a Kart barrel in a Ransom Rest. It measures 1.37-inch center to center. That’s a nice group from a pistol that is not a match-grade gun. This powder, when combined with the right bullet, is hard to beat.

Figure 2. .45 Auto, 185 JHP, N310.

This powder has a loyal following because of its versatility in producing light to medium loads in commonly loaded calibers. Its burn rate is similar to Winchester 231, Accurate #2 and Red Dot. Nearly every shooter that uses this powder comments on how clean it burns. Like faster sibling N310, N320 has a reputation for accuracy and is a favorite powder for competitors in bullseye and action shooting sports. Sierra lists N320 as their ‘accuracy load’ in the .40 S&W with their 150-grain bullet of the 21 powders they tested. It’s also known for its light recoil.

Some shooters might know this powder by its other name, Tin Star. It is a special powder developed for Cowboy Action Shooters using lead bullets. Vihtavuori provides load data for .38 Special, .357 Magnum, .44 Special, .44 Magnum and .45 Colt. This powder has a low bulk density so it fills the case well to reduce free space in the same way as Trail Boss.

Figure 3.

This medium burning rate powder is rated similar to Unique and Power Pistol. It has very wide application for a majority of pistol cartridges. N330 was designed especially for the 9mm Luger, and I’ve seen it highly recommend for super-accurate loads in that caliber. Sierra lists N330 as the most accurate powder in the .45 Auto (revolver loads) with 230-grain bullets.

The only bad thing about this powder is that I can’t find any! N330 is not routinely imported into the USA (at least not for retail sales), and most merchants don’t even catalog it.

This medium burn rate powder is similar to Accurate #5, Herco, Longshot and Silhouette. As you can guess, it has broad application from 9mm Luger to .45 Colt. The Lyman 49th Edition reloading manual lists N340 as producing the most accurate loads for the 95-grain FMJ, 147-grain TMJ and two 120-grain lead bullets in the 9mm Luger. That’s an impressive résumé for a single caliber. Sierra indicates that N340 produced some of the most accurate loads in the 9X25 Tokarev, .357 SIG, .400 CorBon and 10mm.

This powder could be considered slow burning as it is similar in burn rate to Accurate #7, and also to its sibling 3N37. It works well for many full powered loads in 9mm Luger, 9X21, .38 Super, .357 SIG, 9X23 Winchester, .38 Special, .357 Magnum, .40 S&W, 10mm, .45 Auto, and .45 Colt.

Like other Vihtavuori powders, it can produce superb accuracy. It’s one of my favorite powders for super-fast, super-accurate loads in the 9mm Luger. The figure shows a 10-shot group from a 9mm that measures just under an inch (0.93-inch) produced with a 115-grain Winchester JHP powered by a heavy charge of N350 at a screaming 1349 fps from a five-inch Kart barrel with the gun mounted in a Ransom Rest.

Figure 4. 9mm, 115 JHP, N350.

N350 seems to love the 9mm because it produces small groups from my pistol with so many different brands of 115- and 124/5-grain bullets; Hornady, Montana Gold, Precision Delta, Sierra, Winchester and Zero.

This powder is similar in burn rate to N350, and on some burning rate charts 3N37 is listed as faster burning than N350. 3N37 is made of very small granules, compared to N350, which makes metering a breeze in powder measures. 3N37 was originally developed for .22 rimfire cartridges but works in all popular handgun cartridges. It also produces full power loads just like N350, and is listed in Sierra’s load manual as producing some of the most accurate loads in the 9X21, 9mm Largo, .357 SIG and 45 Winchester Magnum. It also produces very small groups in my 9mm pistol when pushing bullets fast.

Figure 5.

3N38 is another small granule powder. It works superbly in my full-power .38 Super loads. It delivers very high velocity for IPSC/USPSA loads and lots of gas for the compensator. Vihtavuori says this powder was specially designed for competitive shooting and they recommend it for the 9mm and .40 S&W. Its burning rate is similar to Blue Dot and Vectan SP2. With some loads listed in Vihtavuori’s manual in the 9mm, 9X21, .38 Super Lapua and .40 S&W, it will exceed velocities produced by N350/3N37 by 100 fps or so. Some folks use it for 9 Major because it makes power factor at low pressure. This is high performance powder.

N105 Super Magnum is Vihtavuori’s slowest burning pistol powder. It works especially well in handgun cartridges with heavy bullets, and in cartridges with large case volumes such as magnum revolver cartridges. It’s well known for producing high velocities. I use it in the .38 Super to push 124-grain bullets as fast as the high pressure 9X23 Winchester, while still at standard .38 Super operating pressures.

N105 also produces high velocity loads in some shorter rounds such as the 9mm Luger, 9X21 and .960 Rowland. Lyman shows it producing the most accurate load in the .357 SIG with 125-grain Speer Gold Dot bullets. It is a very versatile magnum performance powder. If you’re a speed freak, this powder might be for you. Users note that it often fills the case well and some loads are compressed. This powder seems to be okay with compression.

This powder is listed as their fastest burning rifle powder, but it also has application in pistols. Its burning rate is similar to Hodgdon H110 and Winchester 296, which makes it ideal for large capacity pistol calibers like .357 Magnum, .41 Magnum, .44 Magnum, .454 Casull, .45 Colt, .460 S&W, .50 A&E and .500 S&W. The Speer manual shows N110 as producing the highest velocity in the .357 Magnum with 110- and 125-grain bullets, and the second highest speeds with their 140-, 158- and 170-grain bullets.

But N110’s use is not limited to these cartridges. Hornady lists data for the 7.62X25 Tokarev, and Sierra and Speer have data for the .32 H&R Magnum. Speer also has data for the .327 Federal Magnum, .480 Ruger, .475 Linebaugh.

The only downside to these powders, if there is one, is that they are more costly than the common powders we’re used to.  They cost about $10 more, give-or-take, per pound than powders from Alliant, Accurate, Hodgdon, IMR, Ramshot and Winchester. If you’re loading handgun cartridges where the charge weight is rather small, it doesn’t add that much to the cost per round.

For example, if you’re using 7 grains per charge, a pound will load 1,000 rounds. A pound of N350 might cost $32 and a pound of Unique might cost $20, so it adds $12 to the total cost of 1,000 rounds, or 1.2 cents per round. Primers cost about $30 per 1,000 and bullets from $60 to $250 per 1,000 (the sky’s the limit for bullet prices). So, a little more powder cost is a minor consideration, and the benefits can outweigh the costs if the gun is cleaner, and the ammunition is more accurate.

I have many favorite powders for various pistol calibers and applications and count nearly every Vihtavuori pistol powder in that list. Someday I hope to get my hands on some N330. My usual powder-related goals are accuracy, velocity (fast or slow) and gas for a compensator. A clean burning powder is a bonus. The Vihtavuori line meets those needs better than many other powders. Give them a try. They might be your new favorite powder.

All figures by the author.


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