January 2nd, 2016

When Ammo Burns — The Results Are Surprising

This important video shows what really happens when loaded ammunition burns. You will probably be surprised. Contrary to Hollywood notions, the ammo doesn’t ignite in a massive explosion. Far from it… basically the rounds “cook off” one by one, and the bullets release at relatively low velocity. We’ve featured this SAAMI research project before, but it is worth reprising for those who have not yet seen the burn tests.

A couple years back, SAAMI released an important video concerning ammo and fire. With professional fire-fighters standing by, over 400,000 rounds of ammo were incinerated in a series of eye-opening tests. If you haven’t had the chance to view this video yet, you should take the time to watch it now

The Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute (SAAMI) has produced an amazing 25-minute video that shows what actually happens to sporting ammunition involved in a fire. This video shows the results of serious tests conducted with the assistance of professional fire crews. We strongly recommend you watch this video, all the way through. It dispels many myths, while demonstrating what really happens when ammunition is burned, dropped, or crushed.

Watch SAAMI Ammunition Testing Video

Video Timeline

  • 2:10 Impact Test (ignited outside firearm)
  • 3:40 65-foot Drop Test
  • 5:08 Bullet Impact (.308 Win firing)
  • 7:55 Blasting Cap Attacks
  • 9:55 Bulldozer and Forklift Tests
  • 12:20 Boxed Ammo Bonfire
  • 15:37 Bonfire without Packaging
  • 17:21 Retail Store Simulation Burn
  • 20:55 Truck Trailer Burn

Over 400,000 rounds of ammunition were used in the tests. Some of the footage is quite remarkable. Testers built a bonfire with 28,000 rounds of boxed ammo soaked in diesel fuel. Then the testers loaded five pallets of ammo (250,000 rounds) in the back of a semi-truck, and torched it all using wood and paper fire-starting materials doused with diesel fuel.

The video shows that, when ammo boxes are set on fire, and ammunition does discharge, the bullet normally exits at low speed and low pressure. SAAMI states: “Smokeless powders must be confined to propel a projectile at high velocity. When not in a firearm, projectile velocities are extremely low.” At distances of 10 meters, bullets launched from “cooked-off” ammo would not penetrate the normal “turn-out gear” worn by fire-fighters.

We are not suggesting you disregard the risks of ammo “cooking off” in a fire, but you will learn the realities of the situation by watching the video. There are some amazing demonstrations — including a simulated retail store fire with 115,000 rounds of ammo in boxes. As cartridges cook off, it sounds like a battery of machine-guns, but projectiles did not penetrate the “store” walls, or even two layers of sheet-rock. The fire crew puts out the “store fire” easily in under 20 seconds, just using water.

Additional Testing: Drop Test, Projectile Test, Crush Test, Blasting Cap Test

Drop Test
The video also offers interesting ammo-handling tests. Boxes of ammo were dropped from a height of 65 feet. Only a tiny fraction of the cartridges discharged, and there was no chain-fire. SAAMI concludes: “When dropped from extreme heights (65 feet), sporting ammunition is unlikely to ignite. If a cartridge ignites, it does not propagate.”

Rifle Fire Test
SAAMI’s testers even tried to blow up boxes of ammunition with rifle fire. Boxes of loaded ammo were shot with .308 Win rounds from 65 yards. The video includes fascinating slow-motion footage showing rounds penetrating boxes of rifle cartridges, pistol ammo, and shotgun shells. Individual cartridges that were penetrated were destroyed, but adjacent cartridges suffered little damage, other than some powder leakage. SAAMI observed: “Most of the ammunition did not ignite. When a cartridge did ignite, there was no chain reaction.”

Bulldozer Crush Test
The test team also did an amazing “crush-test” using a Bulldozer. First boxes of loaded ammo, then loose piles of ammo, were crushed under the treads of a Bulldozer. A handful of rounds fired off, but again there was no chain-fire, and no large explosion. SAAMI observed: “Even in the most extreme conditions of compression and friction, sporting ammunition is unlikely to ignite. [If it does ignite when crushed] it does not propagate.”

Blasting Cap Test
Perhaps most amazingly, the testers were not able to get ammunition to chain-fire (detonate all at once), even when using blasting caps affixed directly to live primers. In the SAAMI test, a blasting cap was placed on the primer of a round housed in a large box of ammo. One cartridge ignited but the rest of the boxed ammo was relatively undamaged and there was no propagation.

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January 2nd, 2016

Ken Howell’s Custom Cartridges Book Now Back in Print

Designing and Forming Custom Cartridges For Rifles and Handguns, by Ken Howell, is widely considered the leading book on the subject. The great resource has been out of print since 2002. But here’s good news — Howell’s book is now available again on the Huntington Die Specialties webstore.

Ken Howell Cartridge bookYou can now purchase an exact reprint of Howell’s classic book for $59.98. This 600-page hardcover (8 1/2″ x 11″) resource features 450 pages of diagrams, all drawn to the same 1.5x scale. The collection of cartridge diagrams includes many “cartridge blueprints” available nowhere else, including many obscure wildcats. Howell’s book includes sections on: case specs, use of forming dies, fire forming, cartridge annealing, case capacity variables, chamber pressure variables, and powder selection. CLICK to ORDER.

Here are reviews from two book purchasers:

“This is an absolutely incredible [book] for wildcatters, ballistic students and serious cartridge handloaders. It provides the critical dimensions (imperial and metric as well as displacement) for about 1840 cartridges[.] The first 100 pages explain the mechanics of cartridge forming. The cartridge drawings are in B&W, very legible and easy to copy or scan[.] Especially on the metric side there are a few notable cartridge ommissions… but it does not detract from the overall importance of this magnificent work, which I consider the best of the genre. A great buy for serious cartridge students at any price.” — Pierre Van W.

“This book has earned the reputation of being THE authority in the field of reliable dimensions for small arms cartridges. The author [lists] which cases are useful in making other cases which may not be available. This is the bedrock technical book for this subject area and is a necessity for any hardcore reloader. It is worth more than the price asked.” — Gene C.

Editor’s Note: A couple of guys who had the original edition of this book said they found a few errors in dimensions when comparing Howell’s diagrams with SAAMI specs. Before you spec a reamer or invest in dies, you may want to double-check dimensions found in this book.

Book tip from EdLongrange. We welcome reader submissions.

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