Tag Archives: rifles

Another interesting factoid I found

Collecting World War One rifles.

Those early rifles are long!

I have a few rifles – the long rifles, not carbines – are too long for the common rifle case sold currently. The 1892 Krag-Jorgensen rifle is 49 inches long. The 1891 Argentine Mauser rifle is 51 inches long (actually it’s probably in millimeters; I haven’t measured or figured it in millimeters yet). The 1911 Swiss straight pull in 7.5×55 mm is close to 52 inches.

It wasn’t until the Second World War military rifles shortened a bit to what most of think of as normal. In fact, the K-98 Mauser has the “K” prefix which means ‘Kurz’, ‘short’ in English. The original 98 Mauser rifle was just over 49 inches with a barrel nearly 30 inches long. The 98K – a later variation and common in WW2 – was shortened to about 43 inches over all and a 23 inch barrel. However, with smokeless power the velocity and kinetic power levels were more than adequate.

All that aside, I have several rifles for which I just don’t have carrying cases! I can wrap them up in old blankets for taking to the range and such, but this development is ‘curious’. I’ll have to think of something. I hope I don’t have to make some from plywood or such!


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Why Only ‘This’ Powder for ‘That’ Cartridge?

Back in the old days, there was original gunpowder – black powder. The combination of sulfur, charcoal and saltpeter (potassium nitrate) is quite old and fairly simple – although dangerous at times – to use. Black powder is termed a ‘explosive’. That is, it always burns at the same rate, whether confined or open to the air. It is a ‘low’ explosive in that the burning rate is subsonic and it is not as brusque, so to speak, as ‘high’ explosives.

But black powder was used in all sorts of guns. Everything from rather small caliber handguns to cannons. Due to the constant burning rate, it cannot be over-loaded. When it goes off, it simply burns and the excess is expelled from the gun. The exception being if the gun will not hold the basic pressure of the initial burn. But then, even a minor load of black powder will damage the gun.

By the 1800s, gunmakers and shooters found by sizing the kernels or granules of the powder, the burning rate is somewhat effected. Essentially, the smaller bits tend to burn ‘faster’. This is still limited to the overall limitations of the chemical compound, but is somewhat useful for different applications. This is recognized by the designations of “Fg” which means ‘fine granule’ and “FFg” (fine, fine granules) and so on. One uses the smaller sizes in shotguns and handguns.

Then ‘smokeless’ powder happened. Actually, modern smokeless powder was developed in stages. There are a couple of places on line which explain the development of smokeless powder and I’m not going to copy it here.

The benefit – and complication – of smokeless powder is smokeless can be better suited by design for certain firearms. The benefit of course is that a specific application makes the application more effective. The complication is selecting which specific powder for a specific application.

Just for the record, smokeless powder is a propellent, NOT an explosive. Properly used, smokeless powder of any ilk does not explode. It burns very quickly when confined, but this is NOT an explosion. The term ‘explosion’ gets used often by the press (in ignorance), fiction writers (also in ignorance), and various other official people of one level or other out of simple neglect (they ought to know better and don’t bother.)

When smokeless gunpowder ‘explodes’ the burning rate is much higher than the formulation is designed to function. This normally is destructive to some level to the firearm or cartridge and is rather dangerous. It is equivalent to what used to be referred to as ‘knock’ in a gasoline engine.

In general, the ‘specificity’ of any smokeless powder (‘any’ referring to the common use name of the powder) is the burning rate. Burning rate of smokeless powder is roughly similar to the ‘octane rating’ of gasoline. Just as higher octane gasoline burns slower and is more suited to high compression engines, ‘slower’ burning rate powders are more suited to higher pressure and velocity arms. Again, similar to gasoline, although the burn rate varies with specific formulations, all gasoline when confined burns far too quickly to differentiate with the naked eye; the same with smokeless powder. Virtually all the powder in a cartridge burns prior to the projectile leaving the barrel; mostly within the first few inches of the chamber and barrel. “Virtually” is used here as some small percentage of powder never burns. This is true of small handguns and large cannons. (It’s easier to see the unburnt kernels from cannon.)

Just for the record, the ‘muzzle flash’ of most arms is NOT the final burn of gunpowder not consumed in the barrel. See http://www.navweaps.com/index_tech/tech-090.htm for a full explanation.

Smokeless powder burns best when pressures developed are within certain (powder specific) ranges. By ‘best’ one means more uniformly. Generally, ‘faster’ powders burn at a lower pressure level than ‘slower’ powders. Therefore, ‘faster’ powders are typically used in lower pressure arms. However, this can be over done; I’ve found some cartridges and applications stretch the meaning of ‘slow’ and ‘fast’ at times.

There are several conditions which determine the proper burning rate for a specific application. No single condition is the sole controlling factor, it is a combination of all factors.

1. Ratio of bullet weight to powder charge. In short, the larger the powder charge relative to the projectile, the slower the burn rate of the powder. Consider the amount of Bullseye powder safely used in a .44 Magnum revolver compared to the amount of 2400 powder in the same revolver using the same bullet. Also consider the amount of any sort of powder used in a .357 Magnum to propel a 150 grain bullet versus the amount of any powder used to propel a 150 grain bullet from a .30-06 rifle.

2. Resistance to movement of the projectile. The more pressure needed to move the bullet requires a slower burning powder. Consider the demands of shooting a 200 grain .38 Special bullet against the demands of shooting a 200 grain .45 ACP bullet. The 200 grain bullet in .357 caliber is ‘heavy’, yet a 200 grain .452 caliber bullet is ‘moderate’.

3. Expansion ratio of the arm. Expansion ratio is the ratio of the initial burning chamber volume (cartridge in chamber with bullet in place) to the total volume of the chamber and barrel out to the muzzle (where the bullet no longer confines the expanding gasses. The larger the expansion ratio, the faster the powder need be. Check any loading manual. A rifle with a bottle neck cartridge (.30-30, .22 Hornet, .308 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield, 7mm Remington Magnum) requires a slower burning powder than a .458 Winchester, .45-70 Government [strong action] or .450 Marlin).

4. Pressure limitation of the firearm. Combined with the above relationships, some firearms are limited more than others in absolute pressure levels. For instance, a .380 ACP pistol operates at 21,500 psi while a .30-06 Springfield operates at 50,000 (CUP). Obviously, one must load different pressures in each.

This explains why so many ‘handgun’, ‘light rifle’ and ‘shotgun’ powders overlap. Both shotguns and handguns have large expansion ratios. Both shotguns and handguns have relatively smaller powder capacities. (Visualize a bullet or shot load moving down a barrel from chamber to muzzle. With each inch of travel of the projectile, a relative large bore will produce more volume than a relatively smaller bore. If the projectile outpaces the burn rate of the powder generating pressure, the pressure level of the firearm drops and velocity is limited.)

Unique is widely used as both a shotgun and a near universal handgun powder. Additionally, Unique may be used in many reduced (low) velocity (not to be confused with low pressure) loads in centerfire rifles. H-110 can be used in the M1 carbine and also for heavy loads in the larger Magnum revolver rounds.

Please note: Barrel length has nothing to do (directly at least) with prospective choice of powder burning rate. I keep seeing people on internet forums going on about how ‘short barrels’ waste powder as the powder doesn’t burn. Since the shorter barrel tends to lose velocity compared to a longer barrel, some feel a faster powder will either counter act the loss in velocity or at least substitute in a shorter barrel. Try it if you must, and chronograph the results.

Lacking a chronograph, study the findings in a loading manual. Note the absence of any comments regarding substituting a faster powder in any load due to a shorter barrel.

The fastest load in a given length barrel will be the fastest in any other length barrel. This ‘short barreled’ rifle may in some circumstances may shoot faster than a different ‘long barreled’ rifle, but the fastest load combination in either of the rifles will be the fastest in the other as well. This ‘short’ versus ‘long’ effect may be more noted in handguns; but the relative velocities remain intact. (One rifle may prefer a different load for accuracy, but rifles are like that. Accuracy and velocity have NO absolute correspondence. In my experience, I’ve had very accurate ‘fast’ loads and very accurate ‘slow’ loads. There is no cosmic rule linking velocity to accuracy. That’s been discovered and announced yet, anyway.)

Good news. The typical reloader does not have to figure this all out by one’s self. The loading manuals have done all this in their research, even if they don’t specifically mention it.

When one buys a loading manual, read all the expository and explanative parts BEFORE jumping into the loading data.

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Reloading – Lessons Learned – New Case Preparation

I’ve been looking for more brass – empty cases for the unjargoned – for my .22 Hornet’. (That is pronounced with the accent on the second syllable to give it a European and therefore classier sound.) To my joy, I found 200 pieces of unfired .22 Hornet’ brass, made by Prvi Partizan of Uzice (the town or city, I don’t know how things are categorized there.) (It was the Kingdom of Yugoslavia at the time – 1927 – in the beginning the country now is Serbia. Same physical place. Borders may have been changed to protect the innocent. Or guilty.) This explains the headstamp of PPU. It is also sometimes in Cyrillic and looks like ‘nny’.

All that aside, new brass is new brass. It is properly formed and reasonably ready for loading.

Unless one suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder or is a reloader seeking ultimate accuracy. But I repeat myself. I pulled out my special equipment and proceeded to trim to length, deburr, uniform and de-flash all the primer holes prior to loading.

Allow me to explain. Cartridge brass is ‘formed’ from metallic brass alloy. Such alloy being a combination of copper and zinc, essentially. The alloy can be varied to achieve certain qualities or results. The special qualities desired for cartridge cases are tensile strength to withstand the internal pressures and malleability for forming the initial shape.

Brass cartridge cases are made by high pressure ‘extrusion’ of the metal. Essentially beating on it with a special machine with specially designed ‘dies’ until it fits the shape required.

However, this process often times leaves the length of the individual piece of brass – the empty cartridge – not precisely square at the mouth – where the bullet fits – and not of exact and uniform length.

So one ‘trims’ the case mouth by use of a device which is in reality a small, hand powered lathe. The device is adjustable for length of cut desired. This process both square the case mouth and makes the cases uniformly long. One desires a square mouth so the bullet is free of the case uniformly and no sideways forces are imparted. The length of case allows for consistent resizing of the case and a consistent crimp if desired.

Then, one employs a ‘chamfering tool’ which removes all the leavings of the cutting from the mouth of the case. Among other things, this process keeps the wire edge developed in the cutting process from snagging on other items, like the bullets inserted later and one’s fingers.

Additionally, the flash hole, the small ‘tunnel’ through which the igniting flame of the primer ‘flashes’ to ignite the gun power is normally ‘punched’ through the typically one-eighth inch of brass between the primer pocket and the main chamber (interior) of the case. The hole itself is not always of uniform size and roundness AND there’s a collection of brass hanging on the interior end of the flash hole.

By using a small tool from the interior of the case, through the case mouth, one can make the flash hole uniform in size and circularity AND trim off the bit of hanging brass in the interior.

So why don’t cases come from the factory already trimmed, chamfered and reamed? Mostly cost. I spend probably eight hours doing all that. So the manufacturer would have to add that much pay for a somewhat trained and conscientious worker to do the job. Also, it isn’t always needed. Most commercially manufactured ammunition does not go through the additional steps of processing and shoots quite well in spite of the lack. Did I mention something about OCD conditions earlier.

Following these processes, done by – in this case – your humble correspondent, the finished cases are then weighed on an electronic scale and sorted by weight.

Why? In the instance of a specific caliber – which in general use is more a description of the brass case than the actual diameter of the bore – all cartridge cases are the same external size. For instance, in the instance of the .22 Hornet’ herein involved, the case must have a rim of a specified thickness and external diameter; the body must be a certain external diameter at the juncture of the rim; it must taper at a specified angle for a certain distance, then taper at a greater – also specified – angle to the neck where it must continue to a specified length. All these external dimensions are needed in order for the cartridge to fit into the chamber, but be snug enough in the chamber not to rattle about and possibly react poorly to the sudden internal pressure of firing.

But all those dimensions are external. The internal dimensions can vary to some degree. But when the internal dimensions vary, the internal volume varies. The pressure generated by the burning powder increases in a smaller volume. (Look up Boyle’s Law.) By weighing the individual cases, one can determine a uniformity of internal volume.

Uniformity is one of the great goals of the accurate reloader. The ideal is that everything is exactly the same from loaded round to loaded round. The cases all weigh the same, the bullets all weigh the same, powder charges are all the same and primers are all the same. In reality of course, it doesn’t work that way. (No pun intended.) However, cases can be easily with one percent variation. Commercial bullets are remarkably uniform; weighing them cannot hurt, but may not pay off a great deal. Powder charges can easily be held within one percent uniformity. Primers are pretty much beyond the control of reloaders, but are remarkably uniform as far as manufacturers can manage.

So. Back to the cases and what did I learn?

First. The Cabela’s electronic scale I purchased a year or two ago really isn’t up to the task. Probably the greatest problem is repeated weighings of the same item – one case at random – resulted in several different shown weights. In five readings, the particular case weighed 56.2, 56.3, and 56.4 grains. This without moving the scale, without turning the scale off, and without re-calibrating the scale. The Cabela’s scale is also ‘slow’. By this, I mean the scale takes a bit of time to decide the demonstrated weight of the item. Sometimes, it took several tries to determine if the item in question weighed “56.4” or “56.5” or “56.6” grains. It would show one weight as ‘final’ (a signal icon appears indicating the scale is finished) then change the displayed weight, showing that as ‘final’.

I have recently purchased another Dillon D-Terminator scale. I had one, used it for years with excellent results and dropped it at some point. Note: Dropping electronic equipment is NOT recommended. I bought the Cabela’s unit when my dropped Dillon scale failed, and I succumbed to time panic. Time panic is source material for another blog.

Second. The Lee Precision Reloading shell holder wears out quickly. The holder consists of two parts. The base is a steel machined part which is universal. The variable ‘holder’ is an aluminum piece which screws onto the steel base. The holder is the part that actually fits the case in question. Sadly, being aluminum it tends to wear out on the interior of the top portion of the holder. Consequently, the case doesn’t hold well. Which means the user’s fingers has to take up the slack.

This isn’t so bad for the case length trimming function or the chamfering function. But the flash hole cleaning is really problematic. The cutter gets ‘stuck’ and requires some force to trim the excess from the egress end.

My fingers are worn out. And sore.

The good news is the cases are all prepared and sorted – which only needs be done once. Flash holes and weights do not change with use. The case length can change – usually longer with rifles – and may need trimming again in time.

The good news is that from the 200 cases initially, I have two groups of 50 cases (two boxes) which are within .3 grains difference (lightest to heaviest) each. The other 100 rounds are safe and useful for reloading, but are suited more for non-precision loads; which include small game and predator control and general familiarization with the rifle.

Final note: The above process is most effective when the ammunition is to be used in a specially prepared firearm designed for maximum accuracy. For rifles, this usually includes ‘squaring’ the action, carefully bedding the action and barrel into the stock, trigger work, properly mounted sights (iron or optic) and so forth. For an off the shelf rifle, it usually will not dramatically increase accuracy. But it won’t hurt accuracy either.

In some years of pistol shooting in various disciplines I find pistol cartridges do not appear to benefit from the above functions. I do segregate cases by manufacturer for precision shooting. I have a lingering suspicion even that is mostly superstition.

So if the reader is a new reloader or beginning reloader, please do not feel guilty about not performing any of the above.


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Today I Get to Brag Some…

I went to the monthly “Precision Rifle” match at the Sportsman’s Club today. I was told we were going to shoot from a bipod, prone from the grass today. So I took my Remington 700 Varmint rifle in .308 Winchester with the evil black plastic stock and a pretty expensive telescopic sight made in Oregon. I grabbed a box of ammo loaded specifically for this rifle dated October 2002.

I get to the range and the situation has changed. It’s too windy, they says, so we’ll do something else. From a bench rest, we fired a couple rounds each at the ‘gong’ hung at the 285 yard mark. (The range used to be 300 yards, but the club had to move the firing line forward by fifteen yards – long before I got here and I have no clue.) Firing at the gong passed for zero verification. It’s about a twelve inch diameter plate, so at nearly 300 yards, that’s a four minute disc (more or less). I was ‘on’.

So then the match officials hung some Caldwell ‘Orange Peel’ targets at the 285 yard line and we all – in turn – fired five shots at a specific target within a five minute limit. I fired mine rather quickly – not that it gives extra points, but the sight picture looked good and the trigger fell well.

I have attached a picture of my target. This is why I get to brag today.My Bragging Target
Yes, the target is upside down. That’s how the match official hung it. My name at the top is the top as I saw and fired at the target.

The shot hole on the left side of the target (in the 8 right at 8 o’clock) is NOT one of my shots. It does not count for my target. Ignore it. Pretend it isn’t there. My shots are the five shots in the upper right quadrant. As best as I can measure between the centers of the shot holes, the group is 2.430 inches tall and 1.328 inches wide. Converted to ‘minutes of angle’ – which is how knowledgeable shooters brag about their ability – the group figures about .85 x .47 minutes of angle. (Very quickly, a circle is divided into 360 degree of angle; each degree is divided into 60 minutes of angle which are divided into 60 seconds of angle. Shooters don’t fool with the ‘seconds’ measurement.) Yes, I would have been happier had the single ‘high’ shot been in with the other four; I’d be ecstatic had the ‘high’ shot and the ‘right’ shot been touching the other three, but, it’s good to have room to improve.

Considering I haven’t fired this rifle since last year, I’m pretty tickled with the results. It reminds me of that old adage, “I’m not as good as I once was, but I’m as good ONCE as I ever was!”

Next month of course may tell a different tale. But I’ll lie about next month, next month.

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