June 29th, 2017

Reloading Tip: Bullet Bearing Surface and Pressure

USAMU Bullet Ogive Comparision Safety Reloading
Photo 1: Three Near-Equal-Weight 7mm Bullets with Different Shapes

TECH TIP: Bullets of the same weight (and caliber) can generate very different pressure levels due to variances in Bearing Surface Length (BSL).

Bullet 1 (L-R), the RN/FB, has a very slight taper and only reaches its full diameter (0.284″) very near the cannelure. This taper is often seen on similar bullets — it helps reduce pressures with good accuracy. The calculated BSL of Bullet 1 was ~0.324″. The BSL of Bullet 2, in the center, was ~0.430”, and Bullet 3’s was ~ 0.463″. Obviously, bullets can be visually deceiving as to BSL!


This article from the USAMU covers an important safety issue — why you should never assume that a “book” load for a particular bullet will be safe with an equal-weight bullet of different shape/design. The shape and bearing surface of the bullet will affect the pressure generated inside the barrel. This is part of the USAMU’s Handloading Hump Day series, published on the USAMU Facebook page.

Beginning Handloading, Part 13:
Extrapolating Beyond Your Data, or … “I Don’t Know, What I Don’t Know!”

We continue our Handloading Safety theme, focusing on not inadvertently exceeding the boundaries of known, safe data. Bullet manufacturers’ loading manuals often display three, four, or more similar-weight bullets grouped together with one set of load recipes. The manufacturer has tested these bullets and developed safe data for that group. However, seeing data in this format can tempt loaders — especially new ones — to think that ALL bullets of a given weight and caliber can interchangeably use the same load data. Actually, not so much.

The researchers ensure their data is safe with the bullet yielding the highest pressure. Thus, all others in that group should produce equal or less pressure, and they are safe using this data.

However, bullet designs include many variables such as different bearing surface lengths, hardness, and even slight variations in diameter. These can occasionally range up to 0.001″ by design. Thus, choosing untested bullets of the same weight and caliber, and using them with data not developed for them can yield excess pressures.

This is only one of the countless reasons not to begin at or very near the highest pressure loads during load development. Always begin at the starting load and look for pressure signs as one increases powder charges.

Bullet bearing surface length (BSL) is often overlooked when considering maximum safe powder charges and pressures. In photo 1 (at top), note the differences in the bullets’ appearance. All three are 7mm, and their maximum weight difference is just five grains. Yet, the traditional round nose, flat base design on the left appears to have much more BSL than the sleeker match bullets. All things being equal, based on appearance, the RN/FB bullet seems likely to reach maximum pressure with significantly less powder than the other two designs.

Bearing Surface Measurement Considerations
Some might be tempted to use a bullet ogive comparator (or two) to measure bullets’ true BSL for comparison’s sake. Unfortunately, comparators don’t typically measure maximum bullet diameter and this approach can be deceiving.

Photo 2: The Perils of Measuring Bearing Surface Length with Comparators
USAMU Bullet Ogive Comparision Safety Reloading

In Photo 2, two 7mm comparators have been installed on a dial caliper in an attempt to measure BSL. Using this approach, the BSLs differed sharply from the original [measurements]. The comparator-measured Bullet 1 BSL was 0.694” vs. 0.324” (original), Bullet 2 was 0.601” (comparator) vs. 0.430” (original), and Bullet 3 (shown in Photo 2) was 0.602” (comparator) vs. 0.463” (original). [Editor’s comment — Note the very large difference for Bullet 1, masking the fact that the true full diameter on this bullet starts very far back.]

Similar Posts:

Tags: , , , , , ,